Volume 12, Issue 5 ~ January 29-February 4, 2004

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8 Days a Week | Music Notes | Curtain Call | Pugh’s Reviews
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Pugh's Reviews

Xanthomatic’s Mix Wins at High School
Battle of the Bands

Open-minded music enthusiasts young and old piled into Maryland Hall for Creative Arts for the sixth annual Battle of the High School Rock Bands.

Some 750 listeners heard 13 bands from 11 Anne Arundel County high schools rant and rage for six ear-exhausting hours in hopes of winning cash for their school’s music programs and free studio time for themselves.

“High schools generally highlight their marching or jazz bands and overlook rock bands,” said event creator Nancy Almgren. “This event gives recognition to those kids that don’t normally get it.”

Recognizable this sixth year was a greater variety of bands and genres as tortured teenage suburbanites discovered their rock ’n’ roll roots. Still, melody makers were few and catchy hooks fewer.

North County’s Fallen Sunday opened with a gust of high-pitched shrills. Since last year’s battle, Fallen Sunday shows little improvement, jumping and sliding as if more concerned with acrobatics than with music. Drummer Armand Citroni performed well because his instrument required that he stay put.

Playing second, the quartet Havensight from South River sounded loose and sloppy as some members played in front and some behind the beat. Conversely, they engaged the crowd well, drawing hearty applause.

I-N-V-U from Old Mill followed. Their name leaves me wondering if they envy the abilities of other musicians. Praise worthy was drummer Tommy Haller, who attacked his instrument like Animal from the Muppet Show. He earned the best drummer award from a group of four music-savvy judges.

Up fourth was Chump from Annapolis. This band of freshmen placed a respectable third. By soundly covering Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” Chump ignited hope that some teens are wisely searching their parent’s record collections — and not just MTV — for inspiration.

“I’m biased and tend to like music that’s a little more melodic, more understandable and more listenable,” said Jon Byrd, father of Chump guitarist Patrick Byrd. “But a lot of the stuff these kids are into makes me want to poke my eyes out.”

Next, Broadneck High’s Breakneck made the dissonance of too many power chords bearable momentarily by bringing the Broadneck High drum line on stage to back them, a battle first. Good idea, bad performance.

The band School from Severn School played out of synch and sang off key. School should consider some music education.

Spalding’s Avenli closed the first set with overabundant guitars that muddled their sound. Memo to Avenli: loud does not equal good. They received an undeserved fourth place. The only exciting part of their performance was the appearance of the Chick-Fil-A cow.

Fans eagerly welcomed battle returnees Trial and Error to open the second set. They were not disappointed. Guitarist Matt Bowers played his Ted Nugent-style Gibson and Wah-Wah pedal with fervor and might, clinching the best guitarist accolade. Trial’s uniqueness shined as they sang “Earth Angel” and “Blue Moon” a cappella in five-part harmony. Their set earned them the admiration of the crowd and the second-place award.

Following from North County, Systik had issues with their equipment, their chord changes and their stage communication.

Xanthomatic, from South River High School, came out tops at the sixth annual Battle of the Bands. From left, bassist Brian Percivall, drummer Ryan Calloway, singer Nick Bender and guitarist Stephen Kaplan.
South River’s Xanthomatic gave the battle a drastic turn for the better, infusing jazz, blues, reggae and rhymin’ into their act. Xanthomatic won the competition and a slew of other awards.

Bryan Percivall won best bassist with his slapping and popping techniques; Nick Bender’s inflection control, smooth lyrics and front-man confidence won him best vocalist; the band also won best song. Xanth’s guitarist, Stephen Kaplan, proved that nothing compares to the sound of a red sunburst Les Paul played through Marshall amps: Eat your heart out, Mr. Page. Ryan Calloway did a fine job as Xanth’s timekeeper.

Glen Burnie High followed with Heaven’s Robot Lords. The Robot Lords opened with an amusing monologue, then segued into a Led Zeppelin medley. While not musically astute, the Robot Lords took creative risks and gave an entertaining performance.

As the battle drew to a close, Westin from Southern High — the only group to have a horn section — promised to be a hit. Looks deceived, however, as a multitude of flat guitars drowned the brass out.

To end the battle, singer Sam Hoberman of Morningtide from Arundel High screamed inaudible lyrics into his mike. A life-size cutout of Marilyn Monroe that stood onstage behind Morningtide collapsed in the first song, symbolizing the band’s inability to get off the ground.

Standing tall at event’s end was Xanthomatic.

“The four of us are into so many different styles of music and we try to incorporate them into our playing,” said Bender of their road to victory.

“Xanthomatic was an amazing band,” said Sam Morrell of Annapolis. “I like them because they were different, and their vocalist was awesome.”

The Guitar Center of Towson and Asylum Board Shop of Annapolis both lent helping hands again this year. Other sponsors included Chick-Fil-A, Tower Records, DC101 and Band Passes.com. The battle benefits music departments of the top four schools, whose bands will perform in Annapolis’ First Night, New Year’s Eve, 2004.

Xanthomatic will soon be heading to the Nightsky Studios in Waldorf to cut their demo and will appear at Eastport-A-Rockin’ this summer.
Editor’s note: With Battle of the Bands — to which he's returned for the third year — Matthew Pugh begins a new column for Bay Weekly. Pugh's Reviews will cover the local musical scene — from highschoolers to stars, from rock to jazz, to pop to underground — with, says Matthew, "the serious critical attention it deserves."

Matthew graduated from Severna Park High School, where he lettered for four years as a lacrosse goalie. In college, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and later at Towson University, he turned to writing, working as an op-ed columnist for The Daily Collegian and as a correspondent for Inside Lacrosse Magazine.

Over the years, he's contributed articles to several publications, including Crosswalk.com, World Pulse Magazine, Monday Developments and Baltimore Magazine.

Matthew's written for Bay Weekly for four years, often on music. His work as a communications associate for the relief and development organization, World Relief, has taken him to the Caribbean and Africa as a program reporter.

Look for Pugh's Reviews monthly in our pages — and send Matt your nominations for coverage at matthewpugh8@yahoo.com.



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Last updated January 29, 2004 @ 3:15am.