It was no secret going into the Rock And Roll Rumble that this year’s addition would have a significant female presence. Joining mainstay and curator Anngelle Wood on the front lines have been JJ Gonson, who has offered up her Somerville space, Once Ballroom and Lounge, as the so-far-exceptional and overwhelmingly accommodating new home of the Rumble; Lauren Recchia of the Verb Hotel, who has worked tirelessly promoting the event and making sure shit goes smooth on site at Once (on stage and off); and Nicole Anguish of Daykamp Creative, who designed this year’s Rumble posters.
Now through four nights of preliminaries, the dominating force on stage have also been women. Tuesday night’s winner Salem Wolves have been the only male-fronted band to score victory on their night: Sunday it was Weakened Friends. Monday it was Analog Heart. And this most recent evening, Thursday night, it was Abbie Barrett taking the gold and moving on to next week’s semi-final round.
Barrett, flanked by Boston music scene veterans Ed Valauskas (bass), Mike Oram (guitar), and Rice Edmonston (drums), delivered a commanding a captivating set, highlighted by new single and opener “Take It In Stride” and a risky-but-worth-it cover of Sia’s “Chandelier”. Barrett’s powerful vocals were enough to make the chandeliers at Once rattle; there was no need to swing from them.
Here are some other 2 a.m. thoughts on the night, and video from all four bands. Night 5 is in just a few hours, with Junior Classics, Choke Up, Worshipper, and the Longwalls.
It’s a shame that 21st Century Fugitives did not advance, if only because the Rumble needs more La Peste covers. The youngest band to ever play the Rumble (by our guess), this seasoned quartet of 17- and 18-year-olds went into the vault twice as deep as their age, covering La Peste’s late-’70s banger “Spy Master”. The guitarist explained to Vanyaland afterward that his mother used to bartend at the Rat, and that makes for a hell of a story — but props to 21CF for delivering some Rumble history (La Peste won a Rumble-esque competition in ’78, at Inn Square Men’s Bar, only to lose to the Neighborhoods a year later at the Rat in what’s considered the inaugural Rumble). It was also the coolest cover since Band Without Hands dropped The Atlantics’ “Lonelyhearts” in last year’s prelims. But back to 21CF’s hard rock originals, which would own WBCN if it were still in business today. The band delivered a heavy hard rock vibe with influences ranging from ’90s alt-rock to ’80s metal. These dudes have massive talent, in particular the singer and guitarist.
We were all smitten with the aforementioned La Peste cover, then Barrett and band drops some Marottawave, going for the jugular with a hall-shattering rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier”. Once was packed for their set, which kicked off with excellent new single “Take It In Stride” (Field Day also started their set on Tuesday with their new single; maybe there’s a trend developing) and carried with thunder by the drumming of Edmonston (we’ve yet to hear the drums so powerful this Rumble, except maybe for Salem Wolves’ Paul Koelle on Tuesday). Barrett’s wide-ranging styles, built around a three-minute guitar-pop song core, made her 30 minutes fly by. No slight to any of the previous performers, but this was the first time all Rumble we thought we were watching a potential champion. Any of the 13 previous bands could grow into the crown over the next two rounds; Barrett seems already fitted. We’ll see what happens.
When we think of Beverly, Massachusetts, the atmospheric post-rock sounds of Caspian immediately come to mind. But we can now add I Was Awake into the mix as well. The only band on this night to not play a cover, the guitar-heavy quintet delivered a mix of styles that quickly shifted from one to the next, combining progressive rock with alt-metal (for lack of a better, more apt term; it’s late) that remained thoroughly listenable. We started to wonder what a light show would look like during their set, something similar to the one used by Big Time Kill on Sunday and queued up to each riff or hook, but they’re probably not into that sort of thing.
We didn’t count how many bodies Gold Blood & the Associates had on the Once stage on Sunday’s opening night, but if it was less than 10, then Johnny Blazes & the Pretty Boys take the cake for largest band gang in this year’s Rumble. Ringleader Blazes described the crew’s sound as “75 percent porno music, 25 percent church music”, and that took our minds to the dingiest of dirty-uncle dungeons from our youth. Even the baby in the crowd, the newest Army of Broken Toys member, seemed to be dancing. Offering up a vaudeville show that caked on the gospel funk, Blazes’ horn section and pair of soul singers made for a seductive wall of deviant sound and the need for more than just 30 minutes to fully show off their goods. They also covered Spinal Tap.