Two weeks ago, local all-ages booking company Piradical Productions held qualifying competitions in this year's annual High School Battle of the Bands. After a weekend of competition, six high school bands advanced to the final round of competition on May 5, where the winners were determined by audience votes. Being able to have so many young and talented high school bands in one place was an exciting and promising prospect, but in the end, only one band could be crowned the victor.
Armed with rubber swords, glow sticks, and ice cream sandwiches for the audience, Fever Blanket took to the stage with their blend of jangly California surf pop and shoegaze goodness. The crowd responded appropriately, grabbing up the toys and making a scene with their fervent dancing. Fever Blanket is so talented they don't need to bribe the audience. The antics continued halfway through the set, when the band threw a tambourine into the crowd for whoever wanted to play along. Luckily, whoever grabbed it knew what they were doing with it. Fever Blanket knows crowd participation is important in getting votes in a battle of the bands, but they could've easily gotten by on their bright and upbeat music alone.
Girls Rock Indianapolis alums No Direction returned to the Hoosier Dome and seemed to gain some more confidence since advancing to the finals. This confidence was evident in their performance; their stage presence was more animated and their set was more focused. "Don't Play Hardball With My Heart" was an instant pop punk favorite with their eager fans, and one of the highlights of the night. The girls closed their set with a cover of The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," a popular go-to for many new high school punk bands. But as long as No Direction knows they don't need an old, overdone punk cover to win the crowd's favor, they should be just fine winning people over with their bubbly presence and even bubblier sound.
Holy Mackenzie started off strong with a new, piano-hook driven song added to the repertoire of indie rock songs. But, after a broken string forced an impromptu guitar replacement with an out-of-tune guitar for their next song, the momentum was lost. Though the audience didn't seem to mind, it was easy to tell the band was a bit shaken from their rough start, as they were unable to recover the rest of their brief, unstable set. An unfortunate bump in the road for a band who normally delivers well-performed sets.
Older members of the Piradical Productions group were treated to an unexpected surprise when pop punkers Crash21 opened their set with a cover of a song called "8, 9, 10," which was made popular six years ago by local punk group Dead In Marseille. Dead in Marseille was one of the earliest local bands Piradical Productions booked regularly at their shows in the days of The Underground and The Clubhouse. This time around, their performance felt even more practiced and refined as they delivered a relentless set of original songs mixed in with Green Day, Blink 182, and Rage Against The Machine covers. Cover songs are a decent way to grab the audience's attention, but once Crash21 drops their covers for a full set of just-as-good originals, they'll be a welcome addition to any punk-fueled lineup.
The final band of the night's competition was The Senior Citizens, but the trio seemed less than concerned with pleasing the people judging them for the competition. Instead, they opted to deliver a set with reckless abandon and attitude, an air especially surrounding the bass player as he sneered and threw his bass. Partway through the set, the band invited a friend on stage for a thrashy cover of Tyler The Creator's "Tina," an on-the-nose rendition by the friend dressed exactly like the Odd Future leader. The abrasive nature of the cover and their set paid off well with their '90s grunge-tinged punk rock that sometimes borders on experimental.
At the end of the night, No Direction ran away with the crowd vote, with Fever Blanket claiming second place, placing a punctuation on a display of great, young talent that was very delightful to see. How many middle school kids do you know that listen to Joan Jett? How many high school musicians do you know tap their inspiration from early '90s shoegaze, non-Nirvana grunge rock and anthemic indie rock? With such young bands playing music so ahead of their age, it's safe to assume the future of Indy's music scene is a bright one.