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Battle Stations



Published March 30, 2011 at 8:46 a.m.

Nothing rewards the intimate labor of love that is creating music like presenting it to a roomful of strangers and asking them to vote on whose deeply personal form of self-expression is “best.” I mean, that’s why one plays music, right? To have his or her innermost fears and dreams arbitrarily judged by (possibly drunk) others? Well, that and to score chicks. But I digress.

I’m being facetious. But that scenario pretty much describes every Battle of the Bands competition. The problem with pitting musicians against one another is that there’s really no quantifiable way to compare music. You can’t give rockers runs or touchdowns. And point-based assessments are entirely subjective, as flawed as the judges who make them.

But that doesn’t make your average Battle of the Bands any less enjoyable to watch. Truth is, they’re really fun.

This week, three venues in Middlebury — 51 Main, American Flatbread and Two Brothers Tavern — are joining forces to host a unique, weekend-long musical throwdown called, um, the Middlebury Battle of the Bands. (Really, Midd kids? What’s tuition running these days?)

The competition features nine local acts battling it out to decide, once and for all, who is the greatest band in the history of Vermont. Either that or who will earn the right to play the opening slot at Middlebury College’s spring concert.

Thursday through Saturday, three bands will compete against each other, with the winner advancing to a final round on Saturday, April 9. But here’s the wrinkle: Rather than share the same stage, bands will compete in separate venues, with each group’s start time staggered by one hour. This means interested parties will have to switch venues every hour to catch every band. I understand why sharing the love might make sense for the venues, but it seems like a pain for fans. And, as voting is based on crowd response, what’s to stop a band from packing the joint with its own fans ahead of time? Not that anyone would do that, of course. (Looking at you, Spirit Animal.)

Minor quibble aside, it sounds like a great weekend with a solid lineup.

Thursday, in order of appearance, the competing acts are Afro-funky bunch Bearquarium (51 Main); new-wave acolytes the Fizz (Two Brothers); and indie-folk darlings Osage Orange (Flatbread).

Friday’s ménage à rock features prog rockers Prana (51 Main); folk rockers the Peasant Dramatic (Two Brothers); and simply rockers Dirtwar (Flatbread).

Saturday’s action finds reggae rockers Amozen (51 Main) taking on power-punk trio Spirit Animal (Two Brothers) and alt-country sweethearts Split Tongue Crow (Flatbread).

Good luck to all, and let me know how it all works out. (My money is on Spirit Animal, but mostly cuz they’ll probably cheat. In a fair fight, I’m giving 2-1 odds on Bearquarium; 3-1 on both Osage Orange and Split Tongue Crow. Who wants some?)


In nongambling news, the big haps this weekend is the 10th annual Fools Gold Art Auction and Pink and Blue Ball, at the BCA Center (formerly Firehouse Gallery) on Friday, April 1. (By the way, how much longer do we have to continue clarifying that the former Firehouse Gallery is now called the BCA Center? Can we all agree that we get it?) The unique fundraiser always draws interesting local musical acts, and this year is no exception. Slated to appear are rockers the Steph Pappas Experience, indie rockers Villanelles — who are ever so close to releasing a new EP — and up-and-coming electro-rock outfit Diamond Tiger.

Earlier that same evening in yet another art gallery, the VCAM/RETN Art Space on Flynn Avenue, yet another trio of nifty local acts provides the soundtrack, this time, to a reception for the works of W. David Powell, best known as the artist who designed the cover for the Allman Brothers’ album Eat a Peach. Scheduled to perform are bedroom-pop songwriter Lady Lioness, ambient instrumental trio Squid City and electro-acoustic tunesmith Nuda Veritas.

Speaking of Nuda Veritas (aka Rebecca Kopycinski), I’m happy to report that she has finally finished recording the long-awaited follow-up to her mind-bogglingly excellent 2009 double album, Songs for Doing Dishes/Still Lives. There’s no official release date yet, but I’m told it’s now in the mixing and mastering stage and should be out in a month-ish. On a personal note, I’m kinda sad about this development, as it means I’ll have to find some other long-overdue artist or band to publicly harass about putting out a new record. But who? (Looking in your direction, Blue Button, Swale, Anders Parker Cloud Badge, Maryse Smith, Swale, Dirty Watts, Torpedo Rodeo and Swale.)

Band Name of the Week: The Rex Complex. You may or may not dig the band’s self-described “roots ruckus” sound — I prefer their self-described “freakfuckall” stuff, personally. But Morphine’s Dana Colley loves ’em. The bari-sax player touted the Brooklyn-based experimental rock outfit as “one of the most exciting bands I have had the pleasure of playing with.” Pretty high praise from the dude who played with fucking Morphine. Pardon me. TRC are at Radio Bean this Sunday with Railbird.

If you only see one show this week … well, it should probably be the Turning Point “Sober Jam!” benny at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Thursday with the Too Tight Trio and Kip Meaker, the Joshua Panda Band, the Nobby Reed Project, and Seth Yacovone. It’s a good cause, and, hey, at least you won’t blow any money at the bar, right? But if you can see two shows this weekend, make the second one Jeff the Brotherhood this Sunday at the Monkey House. That’ll be about as far from a sober jam as you can get.

This just in from 1974: Jefferson Starship will be at the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction this Saturday. In a related story, Jefferson Starship apparently still exists.

In a recent email, Patrick Ormiston might have just stumbled upon a new Seven Daysies award category: “Best Not From Vermont but From Vermont Band.” The Japhy Ryder bassist was referring to an intriguing new group he’s performing with, Wontanara. I don’t think that creating their own category would preclude them from winning the (completely fictional) award, though. The septet is led by Guinea-born vocalist and doundoun player Seny Daffe and is essentially a mashup of Japhy Ryder and African drum ensemble Jeh Kulu. They’ll be at the Parima Main Stage this Saturday, opening for Montpelier-based electro-funk fusionists Casio Bastard.

Nectar’s is amping up the weekly residencies that have carried the club through recent months. Throughout April, the House that Phish Built is rolling out Metal Mondays hosted by Nefarious Frenzy, the metalicious side project from Lendway’s Matt Hagen. Hagen writes that he hopes to be able to rotate a new lineup of bands each week. This Monday features Nefarious Frenzy, Withheld, An Unkindness of Ravens (great name) and Musical Manslaughter (ditto). WRUV disc jockey Metal Matt Longo holds down the wheels of steel (metal?) in between sets.

Local DJ collective Mushpost has a big show this Thursday at Club Metronome featuring innovative electronic music producer EPROM. The San Fran-based phenom is gaining worldwide renown for infusing his original material with improvisation, all performed live. Also on the bill: Mushpost DJs the Orator, Sycofont and Thelonious X, Bonjour-Hi!’s DJ Treatz, and WRUV’s DJ 2Sev, the last of whom recently won the elimiBASS competition at Champlain College.

Congrats on another fine season to the folks at the Good Times Café in Hinesburg, which wraps things up Wednesday, April 6, with a performance by harp guitar virtuoso Stephen Bennett. The show should sell out. And if it does, I’m told Good Times will add another show on Thursday, April 7.

Listening In

Once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.

The Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing

DeVotchKa, 100 Lovers

Lucinda Williams, Blessed

The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck

Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air; Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band