Midway through the preliminary round of the 2016 Rock And Roll Rumble, two things became certain: Three is the magic number, and don’t stare at your phone while Salem Wolves are playing.
The North Shore garage rock band took home Night 3 of the Rumble at Once Ballroom on Tuesday night, becoming the third straight band to win their night after playing third on the four-band bill. As Cask Mouse just tweeted, that appears to be the #HollywoodSlot. It also nearly brought the death of this writer/editor, who was quietly posting video of Salem Wolves’ performance to Twitter when drummer Paul Koelle, formerly of Read Yellow, flung his drumstick deep into the crowd and right towards my distracted face. I saw the tomahawked stick whiz past me; it missed my dome, buried down into my iPhone, by about a foot. Whew!
Once upon a time Idle Pilot were called currents, but changed their name to avoid confusion with some other New England rock band that employed the moniker first. It’s a bit of irony, as the Lowell trio’s set remained one of the more unique and original of the Rumble so far. Showing a live fury not entirely found on their live recordings, Idle Pilot displayed some complex songwriting and the ability to sound aggressive throughout while often breaking stride. They would not be out-of-place on an Exploding In Sound bill.
If Salem Wolves taking home the night was any sort of upset, it might have been because Field Day’s set was a near-flawless display of sunny indie-pop — with some ’70s rock, grunge, and even Britpop influences woven in. We even heard a bit of Magnetic Fields here and there, and their enthusiasm was infectious. “This is a goddamn dream come true,” singer/guitarist Joan Anderman told the crowd. “This is like the icing on my life.” Bonus points to the drummer John Kehe, who competed despite having knee surgery just two weeks ago. And minus several points to me, who failed to capture video of Field Day’s set (long story). I can’t blame this one on any errant drumsticks, just poor timing and failed technology. Here’s a photo, and check out Field Day’s 2016 Song Of The Year contender, “Finished With You”.
With Idle Pilot’s aggressiveness and Field Day’s indie-pop vibes, the stage was set for Salem Wolves to split the uprights and deliver a gut-punch of brash, surfy, hair-slicked-back rock and roll. Songs like the Giles Corey-inspired guitar ripper “More Weight” and hypnotic set-closing cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” emphasized the Salem in their name, but the Wolves came out often through a half-hour’s worth of grumblin’ and growlin’ rock and roll. The Rumble, like Boston, loves its gritty rock bands.
With nothing to lose, Shatner came out and made the Once chandeliers shake with a fistful of volume and riffage. Midway through their set, they brought out Jess Collins, a runner-up last year’s Rumble with the Static Dynamic, to cover a Nazareth song (we didn’t ask which one), much to the delight of Duncan Wilder Johnson, who gave up manning the photo booth for a few minutes to rock the fuck out and extend his drink in the air. Though Shatner’s balls-out rock is not for everyone, don’t rule them out for the wild card — frontman Jim Healey seems to have a lock on such things, earning wild cards with his bands We’re All Gonna Die (2006) and Black Thai (2011) in Rumbles past.