BATTLE OF THE BANDS

On March 8, the Social Science Lecture Hall housed an unusually large Tuesday-evening crowd that over-looked a stage occupied by a cluttered mess of amps, keyboards, micstands, drums and even an oxygen tank, all of which sat beneath a projector screen that read two very appropriate words: ‘Battle Time.’
The 2004 Associated Students of UC Irvine Battle of the Bands was a three-hour evening of competitive musicianship. Funk-soul act Natusol emerged as winners for the second year in row, with a second-place tie between Faulter and Hope Field, followed by You, Me, & Iowa in third.
At around 10:30 p.m., after the bands had packed up all their gear, the musicians and those audience members left by the end of the rather long evening had one thing on their minds.
‘We’re going to go eat,’ said Natusol vocalist/guitarist Taumata Grey, explaining how his victory was going to be spent with fellow band mates. This was no surprise considering that most of the band, three of which are of Polynesian decent, look like they would have crushed the other acts in between their toes on an actual battlefield.
Luckily for all parties involved, the Orange County-based funk/soul band chose a more peaceful course of action: music.
‘We took it again,’ an excited Grey yelled into his cell phone in the parking lot after the show.
What Grey and his band physically took was the much-coveted $300 first-prize awarded by ASUCI as well as a featured spot on the bill at Wayzgoose.
Natusol and the rest of the bands competed for first prize by performing two to three songs for a panel made up of four judges, one of whom was special guest vocalist/guitarist John Tran from Orange County pop-punk band Home Grown.
Indie pop-rock band You, Me, & Iowa set the competitive tone for the evening with two strong opening songs. The energy and musicianship of the group’s performance seemed hard to top, especially after its final song in which keyboardist Brian Boarini doubled on trumpet, and bassist Ryan Julio figuratively threw caution to the wind by literally throwing the oxygen mask he had been wearing for the entire set to the floor, solely for the sake of rocking out.
But it was five-piece Natusol, whose drummer, Jerome Taito, is both a UCI student and cousin to Natusol vocalist/guitarist Grey, who impressed the panel the most on all of the appropriate levels of judgment, which were quality of sound, originality, appearance, crowd participation and band-member participation. This would be no surprise to anyone who saw Natusol, whose songs featured tight rhythms and catchy choruses, driven by lead singer JR Maliga’s smooth and deeply soulful voice.
Natusol has been together for two years and planned to use the money it won to go toward the rent for the band’s rehearsal studio. The band recently finished recording an album at keyboardist Erik Przytulski’s home studio.
Because each of the placing bands was awarded with a cash prize, ASUCI had to grapple with its decision about what to do with the second-place tie. In a surprisingly cool move, ASUCI decided to award each of the second-place winners with the $200 prize, rather than splitting it down the middle.
‘It’s going toward a trailer,’ said Hope Field guitarist Robert Lerdsuwanrut, who hopes to have ample transportation for a summer tour that the band is currently planning.
Hope Field lead singer and guitarist Andrew Capra and bassist Mark Mikin are both freshmen here at UCI, which may have been why the band had such a substantial and energetic crowd response. Certain audience members were lucky enough to have screaming Hope Field fans sitting right next to them during most of the evening, one of whom stood up with a large sign that implied that she was carrying the lead singer’s baby.
Anaheim’s emo-rock band Faulter did not have the fan base of fellow second-placers Hope Field. However, this did not seem to faze the band’s members because they took the stage as if they were playing a sold-out show, impressing the judges and the audience members with their energy and powerful, melodic songs.
‘We’re going to pay our four parking tickets,’ said Faulter’s bassist Jared Dooley, offering a true UCI response to what the band planned to do with its prize.
Despite the fact that only four of the 12 bands night attained any official recognition for their performances, the evening was marked by entertaining bands that did not place at all.
There was no doubt that the two hardcore bands of the evening, Disralei and Jacob Greene, were more than entertaining despite the fact that they may not have appealed to the sensibilities of all the audience members. It is hard to imagine that anyone was not impressed by the lead singer of Disralei’s response to the emcee’s hints that the band should take its exit, which was to lead his band into another three minutes of chaos and put his hand down his pants before eventually throwing himself into the audience.
Jacob Greene had a similar approach to capturing the hearts of the crowd and the judges when its backup singer and keyboardist, whom I think I saw do a head spin at one point, proceeded to take off his pants and rock sans culottes on the judges’ table (by the way, dude, I loved the energy but I didn’t need to see your testicles).
Another unsung gem of the evening was duo Fragile Gang, who played a stripped-down acoustic set with a violin and an extremely expensive-looking microphone. Fragile Gang’s charmingly off-key tunes would have taken first prize if the judges had based their decision on lyrics. Highlights were the pair’s first song, which went, ‘Tra la la, and a bucket of beer, tra la la, these motherfuckers here,’ and their last song about Beowulf, which began with words that audience members will surely be unable to forget: ‘Beowulf was a very hard dude.’
More than half of the bands of the evening entertained the audience throughout the evening, but all of the placing bands proved especially that they could put on a live show worth checking out.
You, Me, & Iowa is playing next in West Hollywood at the Masquers Cabaret. Fittingly, Faulter will be gracing the stage of the Showcase Theatre in Corona on April 6 while Hope Field will be playing the next day on April 7 at the Mesa Court Community Center. Natusol can be seen on campus on March 24 at the Pub’s last night of operation before recentering, and later in Wayzgoose.