Four bands played to a growing crowd that packed Nevin's Pub on Thursday for the first night of Mayfest’s Battle of the Bands.
The night of diverse music began with Cool Brandon and the Brandons, a hip-hop group lead by rapper Brandon Daley, a Communication junior. Daley commanded the mic with a goofy but dexterous flow. He never seemed to take himself too seriously, which made his rare moments of emphatic delivery all the more effective. Backing Daley was a heavily electro-tinged beat-making collective composed of Luis Pineiro (electric drums), Jason Dong (DJ) and Breanne Ward (hype man). The band members seemed to enjoy themselves and they shared this carefree vibe with the pleasantly receptive audience.
The music moved in a more raw direction as hard rockers Jet Jaguar, who also played Dance Marathon, took the stage. The band pounded through relentless punk riffs and opted for rock star stage presence over a refined musical performance. Vocalist Kasey Huizinga wailed brash melodies over this wall of sound, a textbook depiction of zealous emotional investment in music. Some more focus on pitch and harmony probably would have helped the band, though, as the audience only sporadically responded to Jet Jaguar's obvious enthusiasm. The five-piece band finished with a thrashing rendition of Willow Smith’s "Whip My Hair" that drew applause from their dedicated fans, but also seemed to signal the onset of a sense of a relief for the less supportive audience members.
It was easy to tell that Jüç É Früt, a nine-member funk ensemble, did the most self-promotion even before they started playing. A large group of the growing audience pushed towards the stage to party along with vocalist (and dancer) Paul Jackson, a Weinberg junior, and his grooving rhythm and horn sections. Jüç É Früt started the set with tightly arranged disco and funk, but shifted through styles seamlessly. In addition to a powerful extended jam on Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music Whiteboy,” the band played convincing reggae (a brisk take on Sublime’s "Santeria") and boisterous ska (Goldfinger’s quintessential anthem "Superman"). Jackson’s vocal delivery, which oscillated between a hip kind of soulfulness and mock aggression, made an engaging contrast with the relaxed rhythm section. The audience called for one more song when the set was finished and the Mayfest organizers obliged. Charles Wright’s "Express Yourself" took the band set past its time limit of 25 minutes.
The normally energetic Aurelia Trio closed the night but could not recreate the high level of crowd participation of Jüç É Früt’s set. Singer and guitarist Sasha Bayan, a Bienen senior, tried to rekindle the audience’s energy before many songs and small groups of fans obliged. But despite the bands crisp instrumental delivery of a Latin-flavored funk (a new sound for the typically acoustic salsa-oriented band) and fiery solos, people began shying away from the stage. They may have provided the night’s most polished performance, but Jüç É Früt dominated in terms of showmanship and crowd engagement.
The final night of Battle of the Bands will take place Friday night at Nevin’s starting at 9 p.m. Four more bands will perform and the winner, who will open Dillo Day, will be announced at the end of the night.
Disclaimer: All of the members of Jet Jaguar except for singer Kasey Huizinga have been affiliated with North by Northwestern in some capacity.