No battle last week? No problem. In lieu of a regular recap, I thought this might be a perfect time to highlight some of the more standout musicians and memorable moments in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City’s BAND6k Battle of the Bands. Let’s take a look:
A good guitarist should not go unnoticed. Luckily for us, BAND6k is chock-full of ‘em. Too many to list, in fact. Calling Grace’s Alex Newman showed great progress in the way he presented his guitar play throughout the competition; John Velasquez of Thick Mistress has always made good use of his moments in the spotlight; pretty much all the guys in The Revivalists deserve credit for making such a collectively robust sound; and Edenforge’s Bryan Thompson is probably the most technically proficient guitarist who has been onstage this year. But when I look back on the competition as a whole, there are just two guitarists that stand out to me the most.
I’m a sucker for underdog stories. I really am. So when I saw Spencer Aspleaf’s name amongst the second preliminary round competitors of Artificial Stars and Lil Red & The Medicated Moose, I immediately wrote him off. There was no way he could win, I thought. Then he played. What a fool I was. In addition to being a stellar guitarist in Port Nocturnal, Aspleaf showed great talent as a solo acoustic act against two very strong competing bands. He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t a defeatist. He stood there and he played. And we all listened. He commanded attention throughout his play.
Another guitarist who stood out to me was Vince Swaney of The Wood Notes. Despite the Omaha-based rock band’s overly long preliminary set, there was no question the band’s singer-guitarist was a sight to behold. From beginning to end, the guy was a chaotic ball of energy that just would not stop. He was jittery and hyperactive, but his play never suffered. Swaney was a maniac, and yet he was in complete control somehow. He’s quite the anomaly.
There were three drummers I remember most in this competition. Coincidentally, they all happened to reach the semifinal rounds. To tell the truth, I don’t know what I look for in a drummer. I’d like them to play well, I suppose. “Consistency” is probably the most important factor to me if you get down to it. And the guy who has consistently been on point is Artificial Stars’ Luke Sweeney, the confident backbone of the Sioux City indie rock group. He’s not a bombastic, in-your-face drummer. And I like that he’s conscious of himself and his bandmates’ play, never once playing over them or taking the focus away from the group’s swelling choruses.
Of course, I also like to be entertained by a good drummer. The guy who fits that bill is none other than Adam Crawford of Thick Mistress. Take a moment and really watch this guy drum the next time you see his group play onstage. Does he not look like a man possessed by some sort of awesome force? Of course he does! But don’t get this twisted, Crawford isn’t all show. The man can back up his performance with raw talent. Playing the drums? No, no. This man attacks the drums at full force. And it sounds good.
Then there’s Jake Rains from Calling Grace, who I think has a little bit of both Sweeney and Crawford mixed into his play and performance. Rains is another drummer that will entertain those who are actually watching him onstage. With a permanent Joker-esque smile plastered on his face, the Calling Grace drummer always brings this humorously maniacal performance onstage. Behind the kit, Rains almost becomes a character in a show. When the beat is simple and repetitive, he turns himself into a windup toy. Likewise, when the song calls for something more aggressive he lets loose onto the kit. Such a joy to watch.
ALL ABOUT THAT BASS
The two bassists that stood out to me this competition have completely different approaches to their craft. Elijah Bryce’s performances in Palmetto and Edenforge were insane. You want to talk about consistency? This guy consistently delivered energized performances in which he’s flinging himself all around the corner of his stage and collapsing in exhaustion by the last song. His pop-punk-esque play style is a joy to watch. Bryce has near limitless energy, never seeming tired or wanting a break. I don’t get how he does it.
Delivering the complete opposite performance is Jesús Iñiguez of Artificial Stars. By “opposite,” I don’t mean he was a motionless slug. Bryce had a fiery and aggressive energy to his play while Iñiguez has more of a happy-go-lucky aura hovering about his play. He seems like a super happy dude onstage and kind of strolls around like nothing could ruin his day. The Artificial Stars bassist frequently plays alongside his bandmates and encourages these moments of camaraderie, which make the band all the more enjoyable to watch live. Iñiguez, of course, plays well the whole time, but it’s his carefree and downright happy stage presence that makes him a delight to watch.
SING, SING A SONG
For Rev, it would be more like: rap, rap a bar. Or something like that. Either way, the Sioux City hip-hop artist definitely deserves a fair bit of credit. BAND6k is the rapper’s third visit to the competition, and this was the year he made it past the preliminaries. His charisma and emotional delivery has only gotten better. Rev deserves to be on a stage.
As does Calling Grace’s Shawn Fertig. The singer was a natural on the stage in his band Trust in Road to Vegas and Road to Vegas 2. Now in a new band with a harder edged sound, I was eager to see Fertig’s transformation. The band’s semifinal performance in the BAND6k battle really showed off the singer’s chops as a performer and a frontman.
This entry might seem like a cop out, but I don’t give a heck. The dynamic shift between Artificial Stars’ two singers is just too good not to mention. We got the gruff Neil Strub and the spritely Jeff Koithan taking turns on the mic, and it just works.
Need I mention the husband and wife duo of Bryan and Tiffany Jurries in Lil Red & The Medicated Moose Band? Yes. Yes, I should. It’s like watching Siouxland’s own version of Johnny and June. In addition to their terrific vocal talents, there’s something contagiously likeable about their personalities.
Steve Carlson. The Thick Mistress singer got shafted by an illness at Road to Vegas 2, stunting his voice entirely. We felt cheated. I’m sure he felt cheated as well. Now he’s back in BAND6k at full force. You want a bluesman? Boom. You got it. Want some soul with that? Of course you do! How about a bit of hardcore screams? Bring it on. Keep adding onto it. Somehow Carlson can blend just about every influence imaginable into a single performance. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Well it may seem like it, but luckily for us Chef Carlson knows the recipe by heart. And it’s mighty tasty.