FEATURE ‌ Stages of Engagement 

The 'Charleston Battle of the Bands' introduces a winner

click to enlarge Dig the new breed: local trio Firework Show won first place at the C of C's 'Charleston Battle of the Bands'
  • Dig the new breed: local trio Firework Show won first place at the C of C's 'Charleston Battle of the Bands'

College of Charleston's fourth annual "Charleston Battle of the Bands Competition" — sponsored by CofC's chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) — went down in fine fashion at the Music Farm last Thursday — despite some nasty cold weather and technical troubles at the club's sound board. Five local acts — ACE & O.C., The Tyler Pull Dolls, Stellar Door, Firework Show, and Golden Palace — did their best to play a tight set on the fly and make an impression in front of a boisterous crowd.

Last year's raucous, surprisingly well-organized "Charleston Battle of the Bands" took place at Cumberland's. Golden Palace, Part-Time Heroes, Track Addicts, Grayman, and The Street Family played their set allotments right on time in front of the packed house.

This year's event enjoyed an even larger turnout with a bit more elbow room. Each band had an allotment of 25 minutes (after quickly setting up their gear) to play on the Music Farm stage, rally their fans, and dazzle the panel of so-called "celebrity judges," including me, 98X DJ Amy Hutto (host of weekly local music show "Local X"), musician Hank Futch (bassist of The Blue Dogs), and musician and CofC music appreciation teacher Stanfield Gray (of Grayman ... the judged got to judge!). Local musician Evan Bivins (Jump's drummer) had prior obligations and did not appear on the panel as previously advertised. 98X afternoon disc jockey Potter introduced the band and emceed the proceedings.

We worked from the CofC's scoring system, in which each band could be rewarded points for "stage presence," "vocal strength," "instrumental skill," "crowd interaction," and "originality."

Backed by a full five-piece band, rap duo ACE & O.C. kicked things off with heavy-groovin' set of dub/funk and rhymes. Sportin' a retro Rush T-shirt, ACE jumped on and off the PA speakers and swapped lines with O.C., who kept things anchored across the stage. "We ain't goin' nowhere ... we go' be right here!" was the big refrain of the set. At times, the repetitious grooves had a hypnotic effect. Other times, it sounded like the Beasties jamming with Steely Dan.

Local alt-rock quartet The Tyler Pull Dolls were delayed by some PA and mic problems at first, but quickly recovered and played through a meandering but well-received set of overly syncopated, emo-influenced "modern rock" songs — some of which didn't seem to know whether they were acoustic guitar anthems, light ditties, or love songs. Lead singer Daniel Cobiella's on-stage enthusiasm was high, but his tone was noticeably flat.

The sound quality in the room warbled between fairly well-balanced and upside down as local quintet Stellar Door took the stage with their rock/world hybrid sound that droned a bit. The slow-moving, down-tuned metallic bass and guitar riffs blended with the peppery hand percussion to create a weirdly serious vibe ... embellished by the lead singer's eyes-shut-tight bellowing.

Firework Show (not "Fireworks Show," as City Paper assumed) — a trio of CofC sophomores, in town by way of Greenville, S.C. — stole the show with a pumped-up, non-mersh, glee-noise set. Obviously schooled in the clangier post-punk/indie-rock of the '80s and '90s (think Mission of Burma, Sonic Youth, Jesus Lizard etc.), they were inspired, animated, and obviously psyched to be on the big stage. Guitarist Zach Bodtorf's distorted Fender soared over the jagged, dynamic rhythms of drummer Brandon Gallagher and bassist Sean Robinson. It was the Flaming Lips as blissful collegiates.

Golden Palace looked haggard and sounded slumped ... a drunken version of last year's Thin Lizzy-meets-Kiss rock show. Despite a few bright spots of Stonesian roughness, their set faded into nowhere.

"I'm glad people dug the set," Firework Show's Bodtorf said afterward. "We had a great time at the Music Farm. There was electricity in the air for sure. It's interesting to be in the middle of — crossing my fingers — a music revival in this city."

So congrats to the winners. The second runner-up Stellar Door took home $75 in cash. First runner-up ACE & O.C. snagged $125 in cash. Grand prize winner Firework Show received $250 in cash and eight hours of valuable studio time at Fusion 5 Studio in Mt. Pleasant. Hey kids: take that cash and free studio time and put that meat-and-potatoes indie-rock stuff to good use!

Contact music editor T. Ballard Lesemann at ballard@charlestoncitypaper.com


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