Thriller Battle of the Bands bodes well for the future of local music
The water feature at the front of Queens Park Theatre was looking worryingly inviting on Sunday as a packed amphitheatre crowd baked in the sun to see the fifth Geraldton Battle of the Bands.
Fourteen bands took to the amphitheatre stage, battling it out for bragging rights, and a share in $2500 prize money.
Even with four bands pulling out at the 11th hour, the show ran deep into the afternoon.
The judges handed down their verdict as the sun fell below the top of the amphitheatre.
Arctic Monkeys cover band Chilly Chimps were named best youth band — a category for under-25s. Good Strife won best original song with Something Familiar, and Ian Weggler made a surprise return to win his second overall prize with heavy metal band TQSM.
To give a bit of perspective on the talent on display, I was sat right up front watching the winners receive their trophies.
To my left was Darcy Hay, and to my right were RATSALAD.
Two WAM award winning acts would have been a sure thing in any other town, but were instead left like Stuart MacGill in Shane Warne’s shadow.
While it’s not an official award, I’m giving MVP to drummer and bassist Andrew Slawinski. He went through multiple costume changes to play in four different bands, starting with his dad Mark and brother Henry in Bush Chooks, before donning a suit to play bass with Chilly Chimps.
He returned to the drum kit a couple of hours later for Runnin Lo, and stayed on the stool for TQSM.
A group of seven students from Allendale Primary School kicked off the event with some classic covers, including a rousing rendition of Eye Of The Tiger. Judge Ash Collins summed up the performance, “How many of us at age 11 would have been brave enough to get up on stage like that?”
Three-piece Big Swifty followed up with an diverse mix of originals. The set started with a chilled out indie tune, before launching into a COVID inspired garage jam. Their final song, Leave It Out, had shades of Black Sabbath which saw them early favourites in my book.
Bush Chooks hit us with some pub classics from Midnight Oil and Paul Kelly, but Bluegrass was next on the menu. At least that’s what it looked like when Rev’nant took the stage brandishing their hollow-bodied electric guitars. Featuring the only keyboardist, and left-handed drummer of the day. Rev’nant launched into an eclectic set of blues, pop rock, and a very funky cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.
Xhalisse supported The Waifs in their second ever show, but again subverting our expectations, we were treated to what they describe as “distorted dream pop.” Lead singer Sarah O’Malley was backed up with some beautiful harmonies by bassist Sandy Jones.
Eight Cannons Worth were in the audience at the last Battle of the Bands, and formed in a rush of inspiration. Clint Bromley had the perfect voice for their hard rock covers - which just quietly were way better than the originals. They went so hard on their original tune - Itchy and Dust - that the Bass player broke his first string. In any other town, these guys would have won hands down.
Youth winners Chilly Chimps were brought together around the first Battle of the Bands. City of Greater Geraldton Community Engagement Coordinator - and Battle MC - Peter Trahane recounted meeting them for the first time six years ago.
“The idea was to get all the individual musicians twanging away in their bedroom down to a music space, to form bands and battle it out.”
Sixteen-year-old Jaxon Dodson has a singing voice which would be right at home at a Fremantle Sunday session, perfect for their Arctic Monkeys style. He was teamed with with Sam Jacobson, the most understated lead guitarist you’ve ever seen; Bodhi Ullrich beating the drums like they owe him money; and Slawinski, taking a break on bass.
Following the three-piece trend, Parallel 26 made the trip down from Shark Bay to deliver some original rock tunes with a classic Aussie sound. I initially thought they were a pub rock cover band, such is the familiar sound of their music.
They were somewhat overshadowed - and who wouldn’t be - by The M.S.C. Darcy Hay was joined by his Warralgurniya partner Rosie Sitorus — on the bass guitar and viola — and drummer Mark Kowald.
It was the strangest thing to listen to — in a good way I promise. Their set didn’t stop between songs — the band would just roll into the next, with a few bars for Hay to explain what was going on. His lyrics were tragic, telling of a local farmer fighting in World War I, or a young man feeling betrayed by the police. Yet, the music backing them was joyful — one even had a kazoo solo.
The unenviable job of following that act fell to A Few Simple Rules. Another one of these Stuart MacGill bands. They brought a real 60’s psychedelic sound, with Justin Pilkington’s shredding guitar solos serving as the appetizer to the heavy metal bands to come.
Runnin Lo got the crowd up and about for the crescendo of the battle. TQSM, Ratsalad, and Good Strife.
On Friday before the battle, TQSM’s Weggler promised he wasn’t there to steal the show, but I don’t think he could help himself, jumping around and headbanging so hard the sound man had to help untangle his ear buds from his hair.
Chris Tassone was a man possessed on the microphone.
You don’t have to be a fan of screamo to appreciate the difficulty of jumping between low-pitched growling and high screaming. He pulled it off like it was normal.
Shortly after adorning — some might say vandalising — the donated drum kit with one of their stickers, RATSALAD stepped up to do what they do — wheeling out WAM punk song of the year Bloke before launching into Memory of Feeling, and tying it all in a nice bow with a song about driving between Geraldton and Northampton. It’s just a pity there wasn’t any room for a mosh pit.
Closing the day were Good Strife, who have been struggling to find a bass player as they expand from a duo to a full band.
With three days to spare, they found one. Rhyce Elliot might have missed the fashion memo, but he blended in seamlessly with the girls’ pop-rock sound.
What Battle of the Bands goes to show is Geraldton has an amazing music scene. Better yet, they all seem to be mates.
It didn’t feel like a competition, just a bunch of musos getting together and having a good time, and that’s the way (uh huh, uh huh) I like it.
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