Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pictures from Battle of the Bands

Here's some pictures from the Battle of the Bands Saturday. All photos snapped by Jamie Ducary.

Come Together: Above, all 10 groups gather before the crowd and judges for one last round of applause. From left to right: NinetyNineNorth, HarpHaven, Dave Spencer (hidden, but I know he was there), Patrick Walsh, Furious Waffle Party, The Final Touch, Rocket 88, Woodland Avenue, Evolv, and My Ebenezer.

NinetyNineNorth: That guitarist on the right? He held it down.

Woodland Avenue: The Wood was good. Scored 3rd place in judge's voting.

HarpHaven: "Alright guys, this is the blues riff in B. Watch me for the changes and try to keep up, okay?"

Evolv: The Philly group's singer took a walk on the wild side, singing from the floor instead of the stage where his band pummeled out something furious.

My Ebenezer: Praising Jesus and earning their own praise from the receptive crowd with uplifting tunage.

Rocket 88: aka Battle of the Bands champs.

Furious Waffle Party: Undisputed crowd favs. And if Redbull needs a new spokesman, look no further than this singer.

NOT PICTURED: Dave Spencer, Patrick Walsh, The Final Touch

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Verdict Is In for Battle of Bands

From the bright lights of Philly to it's little rustle-n-bustle suburbs, Saturday night was excitedly electric. Sure, south-eastern Pa was awash in torrential downpours, a Who concert, a Flyers game, and--oh yes, a late night MONUMENTAL WORLD SERIES GAME.

But some of the brightest noise to spill forth that night came from a little corner of the 422 Business Center in Oaks.

The first Roctoberfest Battle of the Bands held at Sports Extreme's Cisco Arena was a sure success; a fine display of showmanship, respect--and of course--music. The 10 bands amassed a wide variety of sound and style, bringing together a collection of about 100 fans from Reading to Downingtown to Philly. There was a song for everyone there, from Dave Spencer's coffeehouse blues to the uncanny Philly funk of The Final Touch to the classic rock finesse of Rocket 88 to the emo punk of NinetyNineNorth.

Stan Huskey (editor of The Times Herald), Samori (Lil Drumma Boy Recordings) and I got to be Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul to the battling bands (rest assured, none of us owned up to being the Paula of the group.)

Hometown heroes-Rocket 88-took home the crown, but it couldn't have been closer. Furious Waffle Party put up a close and valiant fight, bringing their rabid fanbase in full tow. Woodland Avenue's impressive guitar solos and funky style scored well with us judges. Evolv gave the most impassioned performance of the night--also bringing a drove of fans. Dave Spencer, who looked the most comfortable on stage, also came close to claiming the crown.

Battle of Bands Champions, Rocket 88

But in the end it was the shockingly talented and tight performance from Rocket 88 that won us all over. Though the high schoolers were probably the youngest guys to take the stage and still raw eggs in the pan, they totally cooked. How often do you find guys their age that even know "Rocket 88" is arguably the first rock n' roll songs written? Or how often do you find a drummer that young who can also provide lead vocals?

Rocket 88's stage energy was surely upstaged by a handful of the other groups, but they were also the only group to really take anyone out of the moment and out of their seats.

The drummer/singer performed with Jagger-swagger and a strong sense of confidence. With his denim sleeves rolled up Boss style, enormous Blues Brother shades and a Ray Charles head bob from behind the kit, he had the most personality of anyone to take the stage. When the foursome launched into their closer--a cover of The Allman Brothers' "One Way Out"--jaws dropped from anyone there who knew the original. The music was nearly note for note and their center staged guitarist (I haven't caught their names) took over on vocals bearing a haunting resemblance to Gregg Allman's pipes. Stunning.

But what about other show highlights?

Well, the night's ultimate rad moment goes to Pottstown's HarpHaven for their swamped up and totally sick cover of Johnny B. Good. Heck, the drummer even kicked it off Back To The Future style--"Alright guys, this is the blues riff in B. Watch me for the changes and try to keep up, okay?" Frankly, if the singer had gone feedback ape nuts during the song, and then finished saying "Guess you guys aren't ready for that yet...but your kids are gonna love it," I would have given them perfect marks across the board. Their original tunes showed promise, but have a ways to go before they can match their Johnny B. Good cover.

While NinetyNineNorth didn't offer anything new from the teen-emo scene (which is the general repeating problem with the teen-emo scene) I did enjoy watching them blow up with Rise Against's "Injection" and Brand New's "Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows." Their lead guitarist wielded some fancy moves, but they seemed a little disjointed. If they take the time to find their voice, I think they have a future.

Last minute additions to the battle, The Final Touch came from Philly to sub in for From The Balcony who bowed out at the last minute. And boy did they bring a fantastic set to kick off the show; very Philly-funkified. Their drummer--wow. Sickest skin pounding I've ever seen from 15 feet away, if not ever. It's amazing those drums still stood when he was done. Their bassist--laid some of the funkiest funk down. The lady singers and key player--stunning and talented and rode the beat well. It's comforting to see Philly still turns fiery soul groups like this.

All in all though, it was a great night all around. Every band should be proud of what they produced that night. It never got boring and it really was hard to say some groups were better than others. It's remarkable that talent this good is tucked into the area here and so many of us aren't hearing them. Check out all these bands at

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008 The vote that REALLY matters this year

It's time to decide who you're voting for, and I'm not talking about Obama or McCain.

I'm talking about rock bands.

More specifically, I'm talking 'bout's vote for the Roctoberfest Battle of The Bands this Saturday. And while such events are often a yawning affair for a Friday night at a firehouse, this is not your average Battle of the Bands. Taking place in Sports Extreme's Cisco Arena, the event has roped in a surprisingly excellent and eclectic crop of 10 local groups stretching from Reading to Philadelphia who wield some surprisingly excellent chops. And I'm not saying this because I'll be a judge at the event or because The Mercury is helping sponsor it--I really, truly am impressed by the wide variety of talent brimming among this group of bands.

And since this blog is the only place I get to be impartial with work related things, here's the rundown on my favs vying for the Roctoberfest crown this Saturday.

Rocket 88
Fuzzy, vintage rock from a tight-knit group of high school brothers. Most bands their age sound like 1 of 3 things these days; generic emo, generic singer songwriter drivel, or absolutely dreadful noise. And that's what makes these 4 bros a remarkable breed of young musicians; they are none of the above. Instead, Rocket 88 is fluent in the classic rock language, stemming from groups like The Allman Brothers, Tom Petty and The Who with Bill Haley-like execution. They aren't quite Pete Townsend or Duane Allman yet, but they definitely got the heart. Of all the groups vying for the Battle crown this weekend, Rocket 88 has the most comfortable and natural feel with their songs. They have 2 excellent originals on, but check out their cover of The Allman's "One Way Out" to really get a whiff of their chops. More tunes on their Myspace, including a cover of Tom Petty's "All American Girl."
MP3: Rocket 88 - One Way Out (Allman Brothers cover recorded live)

Dave Spencer
Again, another remarkable participant who seems to be completely cut off from most young musicians 'round these parts. His soft and feathery style of acoustic serenading takes it's cues from Nick Drake-style blues and percussive bluegrass. His songs are the most poignant I heard from the stack of demos sent to me for this Battle of the Bands. It'll be interesting to see if these pensive coffee shop blues (he works and performs at Steel City Coffee House) can translate to the Cisco Arena stage, but I have faith his soft blues blows will knock the unsuspecting crowd on their butts. There are two originals up for download at, but his stripped cover of the Great Lake Swimmers' "Your Rocky Spine," is too mind-numbingly gorgeous to pass up.
MP3: Dave Spencer - Your Rocky Spine (Great Lake Swimmers cover)

Furious Waffle Party
You obviously shouldn't expect to take this Reading group seriously, but that's exactly the point. Times is uber serious right now; with all the economic, political, and global chaos whirring around 2008 (not to mention Madonna's getting divorced too, what's next!?) we need some unhinged goofballs to pull us out of the fire, if only for a breather--and FWR do that better than any group around here that I can think of. Mainly because, their buzzing guitar style of songwriting is quite good, whether they are singing about aardvarks (Aardvark National Anthem) or serenading their friend Will who likes to play Halo and Guitar Hero (The Will Song).
MP3: Furious Waffle Party - The Will Song

These are my 3 favorites for the battle, but there are 7 more you can download music from and read up on at So go do that. Please vote and let us know who you want to see duke it out Saturday night.

The Battle of the Bands and Halloween Party is 7 - 11 p.m., Sat night, Oct. 25. Don't miss it.

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