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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Battle in Beantwon

Graveyard BBQs frontman takes to the stage on white furry chaps. No, seriously.
Graveyard BBQ’s frontman takes to the stage on white furry chaps. No, seriously.

It’s a brisk autumn Sunday evening in Central Square. The Middle East restaurant and music club hasn’t started to fill up yet, but flyers on the door announce that eleven bands from around New England will be playing tonight. The bands are semi-finalists in Canadian record label Bodog Music’s Battle of the Bands.

For the past year, founder and CEO of Bodog Entertainment and billionaire digital music entrepreneur Calvin Ayre has been on a country-wide search to find America’s best unsigned Indie Band-at any cost. Calvin is looking to make someone famous. And he’s willing to put up $1,000,000 to do it.

Bodog’s Battle of the Bands consists of 300 shows in seventeen cities around the US. Each city holds three rounds: round one, Boot Camp, round two The Trenches, and round three, Citywide Warfare. To enter the contest, bands signed up on Bodog’s Web-site (www.bodogbattleofthebands.com), providing band profiles, pictures, and digital demo files. Success is partially determined judges’ scoring, but a significant part of the selection comes from fan votes. So far, over 7000 bands and 163,000 fans have signed on.

The line-up at the Middle East includes a rap quintet, a hip-hop/jam band, two hard rock, and seven hardcore bands. The judge scores each band in four areas: songwriting/originality, musicianship, presentation/look, and performance. Each person who buys a ticket to the show is given a ballot. Each must vote for three different bands for their ballot to be valid. The bands were directed to pack the house with as many fans as possible to increase their chances to move on.

First up is Monsta Music, hailing from Mattapan. They’re a little light on the production, but toward the end of their set the quintet pulls off an infectious track “Watch Me Get This Off.” The song is about washing off your critics and haters. Even my pale posterior starting moving on this one.

Next comes Cosmic Debris, a hip-hop singer with a jazzy backup jam band. Their name is a reference to the late Frank Zappa, and their songs show the influence of Wu-Tang Clan. Their front-man spins some amazingly fast rhymes, but I can’t quite get over the feeling that I’m listening to a rap concept album by Phish.

With the third band, ONE-LESS, (www.onelessband.com), the tone of the night changes.

This hardcore/speed-metal band has toured with Hatebreed, Sam Black Church, Black Label Society, and Godsmack, and they get the crowd going with their high-kicking and gyrating on the stage. Guitars growl menacingly above pulverizing bass lines and the vocals sound like a march of a dark army.

ONE-LESS is followed by Downplay, a Vermont metal band with influences like Slipknot and Primus. The energy in the room keeps building and a mosh pit has started up. The crowd asks for an encore and seems disappointed that the half-hour set time for each band is enforced.

The next two bands, Boston’s Blinded By Rage and The End of Everything of Portland, ME bring a greater degree of musicality to the night, with greater timing and key changes, and even some melody above their blends of hardcore and metal. Blinded By Rage (www.blindedbyrage.net) has fans from east to west coast and have been gaining speed. The End of Everything turns philosophy, an intensified connection to art and self-expression into a no punches emotional ejection.

The seventh band, Living Syndication, is more a classic alternative band. Their lead vocalist, Pervez, has a powerful, clear tenor and their guitarist is a style-icon with his green guitar and Nehru jacket. Their sound has echoes of Staind, without all the whining about lousy parents.

The next group to take the stage is Graveyard BBQ from New Hampshire. The audience is packed with fans look who like they’ve all driven down from the motorcycle convention in Laconia, NH on their roadsters, many wearing BBQ Nation t-shirts printed with a down-home version of that infamous Dubya quote: “If you ain’t with, yer against us.’

This band might single-handedly revive the Cock Rock movement: the lead singer wears a leather vest and white fur chaps; their lyrics are pretty dumb and they’re long on hooks and guitar riffs; ; at one point they bring out two ‘BBQ Girls’ in tank-tops, fishnets, and Daisy Duke cut-offs to sing back-up. But they’re an undeniable original. You can tell that these guys love being rock stars.

BBQ is followed by Somerville’s Hostile Takeover, with a subversive hardcore sound. These guys are truly into the music and have some skills, but they take themselves just a little too seriously. The music isn’t as tight as the other hardcore groups; their identity hasn’t quite gelled, and the guitarist far outstrips the rest of the band.

Next up comes Duke, another band from the Granite State. The music reminds me of the Bodeans or Third Eye Blind and the vocals sound like Brett Michaels from Poison. Despite fielding a hot lead singer with a good set of pipes, the lyrics have a lot of sappy clichés. Too bad plenty of other people on the radio-Brett Michaels and the Bodeans, for a start-have that down.

The night closes with the rock band Versatile, from Medford and Melrose (www.versatilebandrocks.com). Versatile’s sound differs from all the previous bands, a blend of explosive vocals, complex drum beats, as well as catchy and crunching guitar riffs. They have the best lyrics and the most original songwriting of the night, using echoes of Tool, Deftones, and Incubus, but they’ve succeeded in developing their own style. Versatile is moving in the right direction. The crowd has thinned out by this point; it’s a shame they missed out on this group.

When the ballots have all been cast and the judge’s scores are in, Bodog’s Boston managers, Christian Henderson and Nick, gather to calculate the results. Second place goes to Living Syndication, an upset resulting from audience votes (the judge had them in third.) Living Syndication, half-way through recording their second album is ecstatic. “We needed this win,” says Pervez, the lead-singer. “We just had a disastrous experience in Florida, and we needed this.”

First place goes to….. Graveyard BBQ. Unless you’re an ethical vegetarian or vegan, I guess no one can resist a good barbie.

So, what’s next for these bands? Five more shows will be held in this Trenches round, with two more bands advancing from each night. All twelve will participate in the Citywide Warfare round at The Roxy on Tuesday, December 12 to see which band gets to fly to San Diego, California for the final showdown.

To hear sample songs of the groups or to find out more about Bodog Music and the Bodog Battle of the Bands, log on www.bodogmusic.com.