Review: Hoosier Dome Battle of the Bands 

click to enlarge Holy MacKenzie - SUBMITTED PHOTO

Piradical Battle of the Bands
The Hoosier Dome
April 20 - 21

The most intriguing aspect of any Battle of the Bands is that often bands choose these events as their first ever "real gig." This was true for newcomers Freewheel, based out of Cathedral High School. They were quick to admit their newbie status, and chose to start off with two covers, "Steady As She Goes" by The Raconteurs and "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Predictable, yes, but by playing something other than the Ramones they're several steps ahead of the rest of Indianapolis.

Another, more bizarre, facet of any all-ages battle of the bands is the parents. Mothers stand wide-eyed on the outskirts of the pit, watching their little babies rock out. Someone may start a chicken fight mid-mosh, and their eyes become wider. Fathers hang off to the side, dutifully holding a video camera and nodding along to the chunky riffs of their offspring.

However it seems that the parents of Fever Blanket were on vacation. Adorned with ironic sweaters and perfect hair, Fever Blanket recalled the shoegaze movement of the early '90s. Their dream pop sensibility made them an immediate hit with the crowd. No noticeable covers, just original material.

After all ear drums had been properly caressed, Walrus took the stage - right back to the land of covers. Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime songs played acoustic. Appropriate in case you forgot what a radio was and have never heard of X103. They get a one-time pass, however, for not butchering the vocals.

The most charismatic band of day one was Holy Mackenzie. They had something no other band possessed - a xylophone! Though only used for their first song, it was the perfect introduction to positive, upbeat rock and roll. At this point the crowd progressed from chicken fights to hoisting people in the air and carrying them around the venue.

Excitement was at an all-time high, as was the weirdness. Senior Citizens took crowd participation to the next level by encouraging everyone to go shirtless. A few dedicated weirdos followed, and huddled in front of the stage. Senior Citizens were a fine blend of punk and indie, perhaps influenced by bands like Husker Du. A highlight of the performance came when their bassist exclaimed, "Who wants my pick? I just got some of my blood on it."

click to enlarge Crash21 - SUBMITTED PHOTO

Blood and nakedness can only be surpassed by the most radical of bands, nay, a bombastic militia. The Purple Peanut Armada has played every battle of the bands hosted by Piradical. Though they have always left empty handed, they have never finished a set without first touching the hearts of all with their rap, rock, Power Rangers tribute extravaganza. And for this, they are proudly saluted.

The Noyokos, based out of Plainfield, should be given an award for having the most rock and roll lead singer on the high school circuit. Their frontman not only had the exact hairstyle of Robert Plant, circa 1978, but also had scarfs tied to his microphone stand, a Jim Morrison belt, and a lace blouse similar to Purple Rain-era Prince. Though they played several Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Red Hot Chili Peppers covers, they avoided being cliché by tackling every drum fill perfectly.

Day One spanned from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and at about this time in the show the crowd was ready to pick a winner. They were forced to wait, however, as there were four bands left. Romanticide were like the nephews of Kidd Comet. Their eye liner and glam dress would've been totally acceptable - had any other band on the bill been like them. With the venue mostly empty, the members exchanged nervous looks and remarked, "If they want to be in here, they will come in. I don't really care." Their music is a mix of Poison and My Chemical Romance. Their fanbase is sure to come about soon — but they may go over better at a venue such as the Emerson Theater.

Gnarwhale are no strangers to the all-ages scene. They are one of the few young, local bands that take direction from doom metal and sludge. Their music was well-received by the younger crowd and it completely terrified many of the parents just coming through the door. The Empty Hours rounded out the evening with several covers and some decent originals.

The time for Day One of the contest was almost over, and still one band had not made it to the Hoosier Dome. Apparently Arming Arcadia had been pulled over on their way to Fountain Square, and took longer than expected to arrive. They made up for lost time by performing their songs acoustic, as well as many pop-punk covers. Those that had been at the show all day sat on the stage surrounding the band as they sang along to Blink-182 and Green Day standards. This proved to be a relaxing end to a day filled with chaos, sweat, and anticipation.
The three finalists chosen for day one were Fever Blanket, Senior Citizens and Holy Mackenzie.

The second day of the battle started off promisingly with Winslow. One of the more original bands of day two, Winslow played music that recalls '90s era Pavement and Samiam. Blending these elements with the occasional noise rock solo, like the guitarists in Winslow did, can be a rather tricky feat. But Winslow pulled it off, despite their second guitarist remaining motionless for the majority of the set aside from the two or three solos he was tasked with playing. The band features two members of the earlier mentioned Gnarwhale trying for their second chance at proceeding to the final round, and their chances seemed good.

One of the most talked-about performances of both days occurred when No Direction, an all-girl band consisting of 13- and 14-year-olds, took the stage. Their music of choice was Joan Jett-style pop-punk, and it was easy to tell from their wooden stage presence that live performances are still a very new experience for No Direction, but the girls were carried on by a lead singer with rather impressive vocals for her age and a lively guitarist sporting the biggest liberty spikes she could whip up. Their set had a couple noteworthy moments including a cover of Joan Jett's "Do You Wanna Touch Me," a pretty risqué song for 14-year-olds to sing and an acoustic song about right-wing evangelicals who use their beliefs to bully people. But the risks paid off as, No Direction brought the biggest audience of both days.

The next three bands saw a small showcase of Indy's metalcore scene with performances from Haruspex, Farewell Forever, and When All Hope Fails. Haruspex delivered with their deathcore set, but Farewell Forever conquered after they played one of the more impressive sets of the day with a solid blast of metalcore that managed to show off more finesse than just a well-placed breakdown. It was not enough to keep the parents and young friends of No Direction inside the Hoosier Dome during their performances, but it left a wide-open floor for a small handful of older, yet enthusiastic, kids to tear up.

click to enlarge No Direction - SUBMITTED PHOTO

After a brief intermission in the vein of "And now for something completely different" by local acoustic artist Josh Byron, who was kind enough to fill in after some bands had dropped out of the competition, Dead Ringers took the stage. They performed a largely rock and roll style of music that would've gone over well if No Direction's parents were still around to join up with their own, but it didn't do much for the considerably younger audience of high school kids still in attendance. The momentum started to return to the day with Attack From Above, who played '90s pop rock music in the vein of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. They managed to keep up a good stage presence that put energy back in the audience just in time for the show's home stretch.

Hamilton Skye brought the originality back to the day with a style of music not really heard of most high school bands. They brought alt-rock music that also blended together a little bit of indie, rock and prog music that's a little hard to describe, but feels much more accessible than one would expect.

The final band of the two-day competition was pop-punk trio Crash2, who play high school pop punk done right. Too many bands of the category try too hard to emulate whatever Blink-182 does, but Crash21 doesn't — despite actually playing a Blink 182 cover during their set. Their original songs leaned more on the spectrum of MXPX with an added hint of pre-American Idiot Green Day. This combined with impressive musicianship and stage presence made for just one completely fun set.

At the end of the day, No Direction, Hamilton Skye, and Crash21 joined the first day's winners as they advanced to the final competition, which will be held at The Hoosier Dome on Saturday, May 5th at 6:00 PM. Doors are at 5:30, and tickets are $8. More information can be found here.

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