The High Noon Saloon hosted Jansport’s Unzipped Battle of the Bands Wednesday. The five competing bands reminded audience members of an unsigned indie scene that refuses to make “Indie” music. As such, the hipster population of Madison was refreshingly underrepresented at the show. The event brought together four local bands and one from Milwaukee.
The show started with Milwaukee act Under Influenced. The band describes their musical style as being somewhere between punk and mosh-core. The effect ultimately is a sound like Fall Out Boy with the gain turned up.
The rest of the show consisted of Madison collectives showing the range of rock music the local scene is creating. From funk-rock, to country-rock, to blues-rock, to jam-rock; the bands took hyphenated genres to their limit. The show was a sort of battle of diversity, with each band trying to prove its range of musical style.
Going by that standard, the winners were questionably the Eugene Smiles Project and The Lucas Cates Band, which ran the gamut of rock subgenres.
If you like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Kid Rock, Eugene Smiles will appropriately knock your socks off. Lead vocalist Steve Eller danced barefoot on stage in between strung-out rants.
The Lucas Cates Band appealed more to the Red Hot Chili Peppers camp with its mix of funk and jazz. The shredding violinist set the band apart from RHCP, infusing bluegrass elements to a familiar sound. That said, the band performed a song from its forthcoming LP, which sounded like a sad concession to the desire for generic pop rock fandom.
Channeling its country side to less success was folk-rock group The Northern Hooks. The members put together a solid set, but ended up leaving a shallow impression on the audience that was illustrated by the massive empty space surrounding the stage.
The real gem ended up being the conventional rock group Fedora. The band came along with plenty of hype in the wake of performing at South by Southwest this year. While the band had the stage presence of a garage band at a high school talent show, singer-guitarist Alec White made an indelible impression on judges with his piping rock vocals.
White’s voice carried the band’s average instrumentals to stadium rock territory. At times his tone and timbre was reminiscent of Steven Tyler’s legendary voice. White’s singing is what takes Fedora above the typical local rock band and it is what ultimately made them winners of the contest.
The five acts competed at the battle for a blurb on the Jansport music blog, Unzipped. Fedora, as the winner, also received an array of merchandise including the eminently trendy backpacks.
Fedora now will have the chance to compete against the other five winners in the national battle series. The winner of the grand prize will take home an additional pile of Jansport gear, get a featured spot on the Jansport blog and get a hefty merchandise package to promote the band.
Jansport promoters treated attendees of the free show to a promotional table piled with free t-shirts, aluminum water bottles, headphones and collapsible speakers. It was like being a guest at the Grammy’s.
A pair of University of Wisconsin undergraduates organized the event. Katie Feld, a junior majoring in psychology, and Leena Asuma, a senior majoring in marketing, worked together for months finding the bands, venue and advertising for the event.
The pair are Jansport’s Campus Ambassadors and underwent a three-month training session where they learned how to promote athletic gear like professionals. Despite their lack of experience, Feld and Asuma successfully put together the event that brought nearly 200 people to the High Noon Saloon on a bitterly cold night.