Verses Versus Verses
On April 12, I sat down at the judge's table in UNC's moderately crowded Great Hall Auditorium for the third annual UNC/Duke Battle of the Bands. It struck me as a fundamentally odd, almost arbitrary, proposition: Three Duke bands would square off against three UNC ones to find out who a couple of random dudes, working for a free burrito each, liked best. Our opinion would confer cash prizes and bragging rights to the winners.
In the wake of the competition, Duke's campus must be rife with conspiracy theories: I've never attended UNC and don't follow sports, so I have no stake in the collegiate rivalry. I can't speak for my co-judge, WXYC mainstay Bill Burton, but he seemed to take his role as a judge very seriously. Still, at the end of the evening, we'd selected all three UNC bands as the winners.
This development would seem insidious even to me if it weren't for how neatly the colleges slotted into two countervailing musical styles, and if Bill and I weren't biased toward UNC, it's safe to say that we like indie rock. The Duke bands excelled in technical ability (a category that was absent from the judges' ballot) and traditional presentation. Soulless Dogs Blues Band left my jaw on the table with their major chops and fireball singer. And Luego were radio-ready with their sharp arrangements and infectious melodies.
The UNC bands, indie rockers all, were more well-rounded in their appeal and adventurous in their presentation. Third-place The Nothing Noise profited from an endearing goofiness, quirky instrumentation, and a melting-voiced singer with surprisingly mature lyrics. Mowgli leavened anthemic post-punk with spot-on neo-soul, while Sweater Weather—a big ensemble who charged the stage with war cries and plastic swords before plowing through an intricately protracted crescendo, took first prize for nailing a precarious balance between delicacy and raw power.
Sure, this is a very "kindly P.E. teacher" thing to say, but in the end, moved by their earnestness and humility, I wanted all these bands to win. I enjoyed all the Duke bands and hope that no one left feeling overly discouraged. After all, as the Master of Ceremony's stirring introduction said, I'm just a guy who "works for the Independent and freelances for, you know, blah blah blah." Not exactly Simon Cowell, if you get my drift. —Brian Howe
Another notch in Raleigh's playing-it-safe belt: This year's Artsplosure—the annual downtown arts celebration with dozens of vendors and entertainers—will again feature several musical street performers. But, instead of busking this year, the musicians will simply be given a larger guarantee and limited to a certain area of the festivities. To find out why, see www.indyweekblogs.com/scan.