Editor's note: Birdy's Battle Royale pits 48 bands against each other in a months-long competition for cash and prizes. Each week, the top two bands progress to the next round. NUVO sends music correspondent Jonathan Sanders to survey Birdy's Battle Royale weekly. He reports back here.
I learned a great deal during the course of Birdy's Battle Royale – where I spent every Friday night in recent memory – but foremost in my mind must be that Indianapolis has an incredibly diverse music scene, made up of bands who don't particularly care about genre. These artists support each other, and that makes for a scene where variety is the operative word. So when the top six bands of the year got together to rock a packed house Friday night, there wasn't a loser in the bunch.
After nearly an hour spent counting the votes, Brother 'O Brother was named the champion, propelled to that point by another incendiary performance. Chris Banta is a maniac on the guitar, something audiences are all coming to realize. If there was anything else this two-man juggernaut could have done to win over the crowd, I can't fathom it. Their latest album comes out in July and is sure to put them squarely at the center of national discussion.
Nash Walker and The Doctors came in a relatively close second-place, and it was easy to understand how they won the majority of the night's second and third-place votes. I talked to Nash before the show and he asked me why on earth I'd agree to be here for every week of the battle. I would tell him now that this performance was why. A brand new song and a stunning closing song cemented why we all love these doctors' prescription. From the moment they took the stage we knew why they and we were here.
Prowlers and the Prey, the night's early front-runner, packed the house with fans — at the time they took the stage, Birdy's was at near capacity — and gave their most balanced performance of the competition. There's not much I can say about these guys that I haven't already, but they were smart to split their set between songs led by Jeff Kelly and those featuring Kyra Waltz on vocals. It gave the strongest snapshot of their sound yet, which is difficult to do in a mere 30 minutes. I don't think their placement among the votes comes close to showing how they really stood in the minds of the fans, old and new, who heard them play tonight.
Craig B. Moore and the Invaders played second following Nash Walker and the Doctors, and their performance exposed just how far they've come in a few months. They've developed highlights aplenty, including the frantic closer “Einstein,” which easily outdid the already solid album version. The band's album Life Matters should be a must-buy for that song and the single-in-the-making “Your Dreams,” which all but demands a singalong at the chorus. At the very least, the album dispels for good the rumor that they're just “that Pearl Jam band.” Not even close!
As for Among the Compromised, Eleadah Kemp warned me a couple weeks ago that they had tricks yet up their sleeves, and I'm glad she refused to elaborate. It was so much more fun to hear it unprepared. Guitarist A.J. Noblitt sang for the first time and Eleadah added a brilliantly skewed cover of Cyndi Lauper's “Time After Time,” before bringing us to our knees with the prayerful “I'm Coming Home.” It was uncompromising and well worth staying late to hear. Three shows in, we know they're the Battle's breakout success story.
Finally, Dead Birds Adore Us took the stage, and while they know their music, and I love that they're still completely out in left field despite this being their third Battle performance, I wish more people were ready to dive into their sound. They kept me guessing, and the dedicated crowd who stayed until 12:45 a.m. to hear the end of their set were justly rewarded. I'm making it my mission to hear them open for Green Jello at the 5th Quarter on June 4th, where they'll play to fans who really understand their prog-rock bent.
I learned one thing that bears repeating in all my coverage at Birdy's this year: as fun as it is to write about all these cutting-edge bands in our city, it'd be more fun to jump into the fray and compete. See you next year, buzz bands in waiting!