Quick. Precise. Fresh. Those are the words that come to mind when I think of Mike Woods’ battle of the bands.
The first time I attended the local music promoter’s competition as a spectator was in 2015 – the Sioux City funk rock band GhostCat walked away the victor that year. It was my first real introduction to any kind of battle. To my knowledge, there were about 10 bands competing that night, and I was surprised to see how fast bands were able to set up, play and tear down. Down times were brief, transitions were seamless and I only knew a handful of the groups competing that year.
When Woods stepped away from the competition in 2016, the Lock N’ Load Show’s internet radio crew saw the opportunity to organize their own battle at The Chesterfield. The spirit of Woods’ event persisted, and Lock N’ Load did their best to add their own flair. Last weekend, Woods returned to his old form, awarding numerous members of the music community with plaques and trophies -- Mike Kessel, Rick Swanson and Kelly Quinn -- while also organizing a swift battle full of new names with new sounds.
The following is a recount of my impressions and opinions of each act’s performance:
REV: The Sioux City rapper already had it rough being the only hip-hop act in the eight band lineup, but then he had to go first. Performing first is a curse, especially when the crowd at that time was fairly small and not in the brightest of spirits. Rev was a one-man show, rapping with the help of a beat played directly from his iPad. Although Rev’s distinct vocals were as consistent as ever, they lacked confidence and charisma. Despite the aforementioned setbacks, the guy had a great attitude and interacted with the crowd the best out of any performer that night.
TRASH MATTRESS: Originally coming into the battle under the name Absolutely Not, the group changed its moniker at the last minute to Trash Mattress. The four piece band was the first group to really impress me at the competition with its constantly shifting styles. One song would feel like a concentrated mess of buzzy guitars and snappy drums, and then the next song it would delve into punk rock or grunge – Briar Burns’ pained vocals were damn good during the group’s third song. My only complaint was the boring solo performances, which felt too “shoegazey” in their execution. Although Trash Mattress veered into different territory stylistically, the group still felt united in their approach and attitude toward the music.
WOULD YOU KINDLY?: Here’s a band I would have loved to listen to in my pop punk/emo music phase. Probably one of the youngest bands in the competition, Would You Kindly? stuck out to me as one of the more fun groups in the competition. The four piece was laidback and goofy and had lots of energy to exude onstage – the bassist in particular never seemed to stop moving (the guy even wore a cardigan, scarf and skinny jeans and still managed to rock out). Vocalist Hunter Milner brought a fresh voice to the scene and I really enjoyed the band’s rapid instrumentation. Props to drummer Jakob Dirks for his impressive drum work, too. However, some songs weren’t really attention grabbing except for the very last tune Would You Kindly played. There was some truly unexpected pop qualities to that track.
EVOLUTION: Easily one of the loudest groups in the entire competition. The two-piece metal band from South Sioux City is made up of guitarist/vocalist Landon Wolfe and drummer Connor Marsh. I remember watching Evolution in Lock N’ Load Show’s battle of the bands in 2016. The band was so young and no one knew what to expect. I remember they were very loud for a two-piece. This time, they were just as loud. However, the band’s sound was way too unbalanced. Vocals were simple and sounded like an impression of Metallica’s James Hetfield mixed with Godsmack’s Sully Erna. Truthfully, Evolution sounded best when Wolfe and Marsh were able to show off on their respective instruments.
IN DUE TIME: Now for an entirely different band. Compared to all the rock groups in the competition, In Due Time stood out for its slow and soulful approach to its music. Most of that soul came from Amber Britton’s powerful vocals -- easily the best singer in the battle that night. Sharing the stage with Britton was bassist Jeremy Cameron and drummer Risty Bryce, who watched most of the show from his wheelchair. Unable to use his legs to operate the bass drum, Bryce utilized a contraption known as Drum Sparx to emulate the sound and power of the instrument through a microphone. I wouldn’t be surprised if folks didn’t know that right away because it blended in so well. In Due Time’s stage performance wasn’t very active but the band supplemented with great vocals and an all-around good sound.
ARTIFICIAL STARS: Halfway into Artificial Stars’ set, I knew this band would place high in the competition. In the end, Artificial Stars would place first in the competition. With a help of a supportive and large crowd, the group played four strong and distinct songs. One moment the band was playing a swelling alt rock ballad and then jumped into a bouncy and energetic tune with crunchy guitars and pumping drums the next. I really enjoyed the way Artificial Stars built onto its songs between choruses, cleverly heightening and manipulating the energy. Most important, all four guys were cohesive and played off each other well, ultimately delivering the best performance of the night.
CALL ME COSMIC: A band made up of Lucas Mosher, Joe Fry, Michael Colling, Cody Shipp and Jason Moos? Geez, this almost feels like a local supergroup. Call Me Cosmic lived up to its name, delivering a performance full of psychedelic boogie woogie rock tunes. I knew I was in for a treat when Mosher opened up the set with a pair of maracas. The blend of talent on that stage went to good use, with everyone pulling their weight and adding their own flavor to the melting pot. Really enjoyed the joint guitar work between Colling and Shipp and the way Call Me Cosmic’s songs would constantly evolve and grow.
HELL VENDETTA: I was told beforehand that Hell Vendetta would be a very heavy band. And I wasn’t disappointed. Easily one of the most polarizing bands in the competition, Hell Vendetta preferred to convey their songs through screaming vocals and intense guitar work – as such, the group still walked away with second place. At times it was noisy and incomprehensible, but it certainly wasn’t light on energy, however maniacal it may have been. Vocalist Alex Singer had good presence onstage, and having both Chris Dolphin and Tanner Peterson on guitar is nothing short of awesome. Hell Vendetta attracted a good crowd near the front for a while – and they also dissuaded a few casual listeners to vacate the main floor. Like Devour Once Dead, it’s an acquired taste. You can barely understand the lyrics and you’re most likely going to feel a little deaf afterward. It’s loud and crazy. But that’s what the band wants.