The New England Music Awards gives 24 local Boston bands the opportunity to be crowned “The Last Band Standing.” The 24 bands are split into groups of four, so several bands play one set over the course of four nights. Their goal is to be the high-scoring band of that night, based on the judge’s score sheets, so they can go on to compete in the finals on October 18. In addition to these four semi-finalists, two Wild Card bands are also selected by the New England Awards to compete in the final competition.
Given the outstanding performances by all of the bands, even those that didn’t make it to the finals, October 18 is going to be a packed with some kick-ass sets. Below, I have awarded every band that competed in the preliminary round a superlative and a review of their performance just to give everyone a taste of the insane musical talent brewing right here in Boston.
The diversity within this competition took form when 33 Leaves hit the stage. Coming off a more metallic sound from the previous band, hearing some familiar, classic rock n’ roll tunes helped the whole audience chill out. The judges liked the “crisp bass” and even said “you make me feel comfortable.” The band may have lacked a standout song to remember their set by, but what audiences won’t soon forget is the whistle-along-worthy, tap-your-foot vibe the band exudes.
Funkiest In a Good Way: Craig DeMelo
If any of the bands in the competition were worthy of some John Travolta dance moves, this was it. Judges agree that Craig DeMelo and his band were “groovy,” “fresh,” and “smooth.” The foundation of their music may be rock but there were some serious undertones of downright funk throughout their set. Any band can perform live on stage, but the funky beats oozing out of every verse made their music come to life.
Judges: Victoria Wasylak (WTBU), Mike Flynn (New England Music Awards), Scott Feldman (WZLX-FM), Al Riskalla (former Z100 DJ)
Best Synchronized Knee Bending: Butterworth & Company
I think the judges deemed Butterworth & Co’s blend of rock, R&B, and soul “smooth as hell” because of the genuine pleasure they took in performing. The bassist didn’t stop smiling at his bandmates for the entire set. I guess that’s why the whole band ended up bending their knees and rocking their bodies at the exact same second. It added to their overall stage appeal, I just don’t know how they managed to get their joints at the same angle, too.
The crowd, the judges, and previous rock gods watching from above simultaneously bowed down after Rula Bula’s set. They opened their act with downright crazy guitar riffs, killing every note like it was their last. The drummer was producing thunderous sounds and the guitarists simply never stopped tearing up the stage. Yet in this whole mix of wild instrumentals, that had the crowd chanting along and begging for more, the lead singer still managed to make his vocals a priority, never missing a note. Rula Bula provides just the right ratio of intense instrumentals with catchy, memorable lyrics; every song was just a jam.
Most Fire: Melt
The irony does not escape me that a band named Melt is the superlative winner for most fire. After hearing their ballad, “Babble On,” I didn’t have a choice. The lead singer’s voice was inflamed with passion, pushing sassy vocals to a level I didn’t even know was possible. The judges praised how Melt “created their own style,” which seemed to build off the foundation of some serious belts from the singer, supported by some killer backup vocals.
Most Memorable: We Are Astronauts
This is the kind of band that you can listen to for hours and still want more. I had to take a minute of silence before I could give them feedback because, frankly, they hit their set out of the park. There was not a single error in their playing, singing, or overall presentation. This is a band that is ready to be signed by a major record company: they have the it factor. Their entire album is worthy of putting on repeat, listening to their enchanting rock songs over and over again. I dub We Are Astronauts as the most memorable band of the competition, but it might be more accurate to say that they are impossible to forget.
Despite the crowd’s enthusiastic clapping and dancing, I still say the group of people that had the most fun that night-or ever-was the Off Chance. Their “mix of rock, blended with a sound that is reminiscent of something right out of Nashville and the UK all at once” created “a slick, but energizing beat,” said the judges. What was missing from their tap-your-foot-worthy music was back up vocals; the lead singer’s voice packed a snappy punch into every line but his bandmates need to take a break from grinning ear to ear and help him out. Although, the band have been too winded from swinging around stage, having the time of everyone’s life, to contribute to the vocals.
Dynamic Duo: Annie Brobst Band
Without a doubt the reason that the judges were taken with Annie Brobst Band’s “on point harmony” was because of the matchup of Annie with her lead guitarist. The two of them, each seamlessly backing up the vocals of the other, created the kind of country-rock sound other artists dream of. Between their timing, complimentary pitch, and connection on stage these two produced some of the strongest vocals in the entirety of the competition. The stage never felt empty or like it was missing something; every inch of the venue was under the spell of their voices.
Crowd Favorite: Last Call
This one was a no brainer; Last Call managed to turn the Hard Rock Cafe into the sickest nightclub ever. This was the only time that a bouncer had to actively stand in front of the stage to make none of the dozens of people jumping around got too close to the band. The crowd went wild for their explosive hip-hop beats and bold reggae undertones. The group stood out for their record scratching and Red Hot Chili Peppers inspired vocals. All I can say is that when Last Call took the stage: the crowd went wild.
Judges: Victoria Wasylak (WTBU), Alex Alllinson (The Bridge Sound and Stage), Gerg Anidem (Indie Scene Radio), Max Bowen (WEMF Radio)
Best Wedding Band: Learned Hands
I am not sure if Learned Hands has ever considered being a wedding band, and I say this with a total respect for their craft, they should be-but only for cool ass people. The best part of their old school rock n’ roll tunes was their energy. For a couple of older, snazzy looking guys, they knew how to get down! Their energy stemmed from their “blues overtones that gave the music a lot of texture,” according to judges. Granted, their sound was a little too dated for me to play them on my iPod when I walk around the city, but I know that they could definitely get everyone at a wedding on the dance floor for the whole night.
Most Confident: Singlecast
All of the judges went crazy for Singlecast’s “lively presence” and their ability to “completely fill the entire stage with just a three piece band.” If I had just been listening to Singlecast, without seeing them on stage, I would have assumed that there were five musicians on stage. This is a group that knows exactly what their sound is; there was not even a trace of uncertainty or nerves on that stage. When they busted out with their song “Two Stage War” I think everyone’s eyebrows went to the roof; are three guys really responsible for this huge sound?
Only Mundo’s Crazy Circus was able to pull off such an eclectic mix of mix in one performance, and pull it off with some serious flare. There were points where the bass was busting out rock beats. But then the tambourine got going, birthing a folk edge, at the same time indie-pop vocals stormed the dash. It says something when the last band of the night is the only one to get a couple of the judges out of their seats, mimicking the same funky dance moves seen on stage.
Night 4: Sunday September 21
Judges: Lindsay Van Kauwenberg (Big Crush Records), Steve Gaetz (Big Crush Records), Joe Graham (New England Music Awards), Christie (yes, me) Leist
Biggest Surprise: 21st Century Fugitives
When this group of fourteen and fifteen year-old boys took the stage, the first band of the night to accommodate curfew, I was initially nervous. By far the youngest group in the competition, I feared irrevocable psychological damage if they couldn’t match up to the skill level of bands from the previous nights. SHAME ON ME for doubting them. Age proved to be an irrelevant factor as soon as these kids got to work; the fire of the lead guitarist backed up some damn good lyrics, with a solid drum beat that glued everything in place, keeping them right on par with the other bands that night. They might be too young to grab a drunk at the bar, but they set the bar pretty damn high with their talent.
Most Soundtrack Worthy: The Tymes
Every single solitary song performed by the Tymes’ was simply cool as shit. There was enough of a variety from number to number to avoid repetition, but there was also something consistent in their music; I’m going to call it, an epic quality. Each song sounded like it should be playing at the end of a movie, as the protagonist learns his lesson, gets the girl, and drives off into the sunset in his Mustang convertible. They have a smooth ‘70s vibe while at the same time pack a punch of hard rock. I could listen to them for hours and mark my words: some brilliant music producer will turn their album into one of the most successful movie soundtracks of all time.
First of all: black fedora, black shades, black collared shirt but a beaming smile that won everyone’s hearts. Knight is exactly what every musician wants to be: talented, confident, and completely in control of his audience. He had the entirety of the Hard Rock Cafe, including the people in the dining room who couldn’t even see him, wrapped around his keyboard slamming fingers. From the moment he invited the crowd to move closer to the stage by saying “we don’t bite…too hard,” to the moment the wild, jazzy instrumentals picked up behind him, we were hooked. Knight has all the swag of Johnny Bravo with the explosive vocal talent of a young Sam Cooke. One judge even commented, “Now we know why you wear sunglasses: because your future is so bright!”
Tenderest Performance: Dan Masterson
Anyone who says Dan Masterson didn’t melt their hearts with his performance last Friday night is a liar. Not only did Masterson inspire some gentle, arm-in-arm swaying, on the dance floor, but he also stole the judges with his lyrics; they commented on everything from his “damn smooth pipes” to his ability to “paint a hauntingly beautiful story with lyrics.” Masterson’s vocal control in “Fine” and “Atlas” the two, in my opinion, outstanding songs of the night was unreal. You know that feeling when you see an eight week-old puppy in a park? That is nothing compared to the tender quality of seeing Masterson perform live.
Judges: Victoria Wasylak (WTBU), Cassandra Paiva (92.9 Local), Lindsay Van Kauwenberg (Big Crush Records), Michael Bernier (Evolvement Radio)
Most “Hot Damn!” Band: Without Warning
If you’re in a hardcore punk rock band competing and someone says “You melted my face off,” after your set, you’re doing something right. It is obvious right off the bat that literally without warning (pun intended) these guys are going to slay their performance. Thank god they were the first band of the night to play because I don’t my heart could taken the raw power of their instrumentals at one in the morning. The guitarists were so skilled, each chord meticulously strummed, yet this is the kind of music that makes you thrash around with no control. Judges were impressed with their “tight sound” and “slammin speed riffs” but the audience was consumed solely by the hugeness of the performance. Either way, at the end of Without Warning’s set the feeling was unanimous: hot damn!!
The upright bass was an unexpected surprise from a group named for its lead singer. That isn’t to take away from Fuller, whose top-notch voice control stole the show. But it was beyond refreshing to have some unique sounds to back up Fuller’s vocals. Having an unusual instrument on stage undoubtedly earned the band some bonus points with the judges. Other musicians take notes: if you want to receive compliments for “fierce playing” and “serious strumming,” dump the traditional horizontal bass.
Let’s talk about the guitarist playing his electric guitar with a violin bow. He had his hood up the whole performance, just kind of blending into the stage, then just busts out with this awesome skill. It was nothing less than mesmerizing, and everyone was doing double takes to make sure this was actually happening. It’s ironic that their catchy lyrics included the line “guys like me don’t come around every day” because this was the most badass way to play an instrument I have ever seen, so exactly: not something you see every day.
(Photograph courtesy of New England Music Awards)
The judges praised the singer-songwriter for pulling off a rap verse with only his voice and his acoustic guitar on stage but even they wanted to know “Where’s the band?” On the other hand, what was missing from the stage didn’t compare to what Sills ended up bringing. And I’m not talking about Sills’ passionate guitar playing or Bon Jovi-esque belts; I’m talking about the portable beer holder he brought that attached right onto the microphone. Who needs a band? This man clearly has the music in his heart and a drink at his fingertips.
Band to Watch: blindspot
Everyone wishes that they could have seen their favorite band perform live “before they were popular.” After watching blindspot perform, I think the whole room was in agreement: this is a great band in the making. The band members are still young, in school, and their music reflects has that fresh take on rock n’ roll. I think their song “Lay Me Down” sealed the deal for everyone: yeah these are kids, but hell, they’re going places.
Arms and Ears wins this superlative for their killer violinist. The violin added a unique sound to this already killer indie-rock band. The strings provided a twist on the music, which the judges agreed were “edgy but also out of control fun.” All I can say is, anyone who knows what’s up in the music industry should be listening to these guys; their sound have enough indie undertones to captivate a young audience, but enough complexity to hook more experienced listeners. They are the whole package, plus the cherry on top with their violin player.
The final night of the competition, where the ultimate winner of the Last Band Standing will be crowned is on October 18 at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.
The finalists are:
Annie Brobst (Wild Card)
The Tymes (Wild Card)
A special thanks to Joe Graham, John Flemming, Mike Flynn, and the Hard Rock Cafe for their support of the musical talent here in Boston.