From drummer to beatmaker, producer and now leader of the 2016 Birdy’s Battle Royale champions, Clint Breeze melded power and finesse at the start of the night. With Carrington Clinton (a.k.a. Clint Breeze) comfortably manning his drums behind the scenes, he allowed his band “The Groove” to take control, and they won the crowd over with a jazz-fueled combination of Earth Wind and Fire and The Roots, filtered through a Pharell lens. Though they had two rappers at the helm, primary vocalist Jamar Bowers dominated the stage whenever he was at the front, appearing at times to be possessed by young Stevie Wonder. Yet the band was smart enough to leave room in the arrangements for epic solos as well, which proved the groove is strong with these ones.
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Winning from the opening spot was no breeze (pun intended) because the level of talent at this year’s Battle Finals was immense. My vote for close second place goes to Tracksuit Lyfestile. They played second from last of the night and proved there’s plenty of room for a sound you truly haven’t heard before. An instrumental combo featuring trombone distorted through a varied set of live FX-pedals, the band brought a hard-rock edge to what is still a highly experimental sound. They got the biggest pop of the night from the crowd, particularly when they busted out Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” near the end of their set.
Playing a cover during a Battle Royale round can be a risky move, however. Legacy of Triumph learned that the hard way, when for better or worse, their sloppy take on “Killing in the Name” cover only showcased how much of a debt they owe to the sound of Rage Against the Machine. The seven-piece fusion combo did an admirable job following Clint Breeze, but considering they had to play two shows to get to this point, the final result seemed rushed and they never distinguished themselves from their competition. I look forward to catching them in their element to hear the full Triumph experience.
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Marion-based Carmichael took the stage next, as this year’s rightful successor to Prowlers and the Prey’s alt-mericana sound. It took a while to pin them down — at first they reminded me of Isbell-era Drive-By Truckers, but with upright bass. When I heard their exceptional three-part harmonies on “Don’t Miss You At All” echoing against thundering bass drum, however, I knew they were more likely to draw comparisons to the neo-folk of Delta Rae. The best moments featured Lindsay Harness on upright bass and vocals, and when hints of Bakersfield country would sneak through I’d get goosebumps. Keep an eye on them, folks.
Young Kingdom, featuring musicians from Indianapolis and Flora, had fans who traveled the farthest to hear them compete. Cale Gerlach’s vocals confidently brought together influences as disparate as Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon and Cage the Elephant, in a high-energy performance which would have dominated any other battle. Easily the most radio-ready act of the night, their hooks dig in and don’t quit. If you find these guys on a bill near you, don’t sleep on it!
Much respect also goes to the band that closes out such a competitive night. This year another Marion band, Stay Outside, took on that challenge, and though they played to a somewhat diminished crowd after midnight, Aaron Becker wrung every drop of energy out of that room for his standout vocal performance. By the time he was tossing his guitar in the air at the finish of show-stopping “Lieutenant Dan,” they’d proved their sound — The Slip meets the intensity of Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue — has plenty of staying power. Their album release show at Grove Haus on June 10 needs to be on your “must attend” list.