On the fence: Guitarist Logan
Messina and lead singer Elise Miklich of White Picket Fence took first
place at the Jan. 17 Battle of the Bands at the Jewish Community
Center. MATT MUMAU PHOTO
Now indoctrinated as one of the first of this year’s brand-spankin’-new rock coterie, White Picket Fence
took first prize and a $200 award when the judgment was finally handed
down around 1 a.m. This sharp, indie-rock outfit comprises five members
from the Westhill, Marcellus and West Genesee school districts.
Meanwhile, Baldwinsville quintet Recurring Dream, a bamboozled
mix of Jack Black and Charles Bukowski, grabbed second-place honors,
with third place claimed by the East Syracuse-Minoa trio Lee Terrace,
who laid out swelling guitar work in “Montezuma Soul,” a tune perhaps a
bit more like Phish’s “Guyute” than Zappa’s “Inca Roads.”
The steely hammer of justice rang down from a stone-cold, rock-fan jury consisting of Jeremy Johnston, part-owner with Ron Keck and engineer for Skaneateles’ SubCat Studios; Ulf Oesterle, mastermind behind Aux Records, an independent label that forms a close sorority with SubCat; Deaf Geoff, producer for Molly and Shannon in the Morning on WWHT-FM 107.9 (Hot 107.9); and your humble narrator, the music editor for The Syracuse New Times. Deejay Marty, a Syracuse native and Hot 107.9 morning personality, served as the show’s emcee.
Bands were judged on the categories of
stage presence, musical skill, audience response and overall
performance on a 1-to-10 scale. Therefore, each band could receive 160
points for their performance in total. Bands were ranked by their final
White Picket Fence’s set was a
smattering of originals and covers that borrowed heavily from the
culture of the emos, but also went beyond the style by incorporating a
slightly edgier, rock-centric character that defied an average run
through Dashboard Confessional’s “Screaming Infidelities.” The only
band present to feature two female musicians, White Picket Fence
consisted of Kelly Clancy and Elise Miklich, both from Westhill, Ryan Chapman of Marcellus and Garrett Kaloski and Logan Messina of West Genesee.
“Dangerous Machine,” a track that lead
singer Miklich announced during the night would be on an independent
album to be released in June, expressed the better parts of Clancy’s
and Messina’s guitar work. At the same time, a tune that hooked on the
line “We all had trouble sleeping” and a rhythmic pile driver that
depicted a relationship in which “I’ve got issues, and you’ve got
values” showcased the band’s more pensive ambitions, while at the same
time reveling in relatable teenage woes.
While slightly handicapped by the fact
that the crowd had thinned by the time their last-place time slot came
around, Recurring Dream had little trouble pulling that intimate
audience into their quirky, comedy rock. Lead singer Dave Kahrs channeled the spirit of King Missile for the band’s opener, a grungy tune reminiscent of singspiel titled “Shitty Day.” Guitarists Greg Johnson and Neil Kasson as well as bassist Alex Fedrizzi and drummer Justin Mulvaney
weighed heavily upon a rendition of Tenacious D’s “Tribute,” while
Kahrs rushed the judges’ seating to try to score some brownie points.
Frontman and bassist Mike Sloan
of Lee Terrace laid back in a mellow state of mind during his band’s
jammy set. While mostly instrumental and experimental, Lee Terrace
seemed to grasp tight song structures and well-done improv transitions,
although they may have leaned a bit too hard on amorphous jams.
Other highlights included The Study of Matter’s frontwoman Kassandra Lewis
and her emotional takes on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White
Room,” in addition to a fun romp through Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby
McGee.” Reckless Days, a hardcore band from a variety of local
school districts, opted to perform on the Jewish Community Center’s
auditorium floor rather than the stage, and thrashed with energy that
would have made Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine proud.
The groups showed individuality and
varying degrees of the defiant spirit of rock, yet they came together
in the spirit of music rather than bitterly disputing over the victor’s
slot. Swapping rock’n’roll sagas and networking with student musicians
they might not have otherwise come in contact with, the battle was a
musical macrocosm that showed the benefits of collaboration that will
hopefully lend aid to the ailing Syracuse scene.
Hip to the techno fad, most of the bands
have Myspace.com pages. To sample some new tunes, check out