On an evening plagued by sound issues, the noisiest band won out. And that might have been the difference at the Rock And Roll Rumble second semi-final night on Saturday, a four-way throwdown that could have been won by anyone — but was won by Weakened Friends.
Spirited sets by the Devil’s Twins, Analog Heart, and Salem Wolves gave the night at Once Ballroom in Somerville a real playoff-like atmosphere, with each of the four bands delivering their full potential. But where those three bands wrestled with the sound and were at times held back by an uneven mix, Weakened Friends used the feedback and distortion to their advantage, blasting out a 30-minute set of breathlessness that mixed grunge and power-pop and transported us all back to the better days of 1993.
Last night, we wrote that Abbie Barrett was in the figurative lead for the wild card slot. After tonight, we wouldn’t be shocked if any of the three runners-up made the jump. It’ll all come down to the judges’ scorecards — and which second-place band had the highest score. While we await the word on the third band, here are some additional thoughts on the second night of the semi-finals.
In the prelims, the Devil’s Twins came out with a fury and never let up. In the semis, they dialed it back just a touch, and found the perfect balance between their leather jacket rock and roll and the gritty, more restrained blues that gives their sound such substance. Vocalist Nicole Coogan’s gravelly howl is the sound of a misogynist asshole getting punched in the dick, and drummer Ryan Manning is an absolute punisher on the drums. The Twins had the crowd chanting along their song lyrics, and drew the loudest ovation of the night, even though they were the first to go on and people were still getting lubed up by the time they hit the stage. If a bar fight broke out at the Rumble, you’d want the Devil’s Twins on your side.
We were impressed by the alt-rock band’s performance last week in the prelims, but tonight Liz Bills and company took things to another level, channelling brash arena rock bravado with ’70s-era pop smarts. Bills commanded the entire room, jumping into the crowd to dance along with the front row and shadowboxing hard enough to make Floyd Mayweather sweat. Analog Heart opened their set with a solo performance from the singer/guitarist, but rounded into form midway through with a masterful performance of new track “Come Alive”, a song that should be a fairly huge hit. It’s a powerful tune that makes you say “holy shit!” — and in a live setting, it’s downright captivating. But, unfortunately, the sound mix was not on their side, and at times it appeared to throw the young band off its game.
A nice subplot of this year’s Rumble has been the live drumming. We’ve noted it before in individual situations, and there was a friendly internet battle going on all week between Abbie Barrett’s Rice Edmonston and Worshipper’s Dave Jarvis. But watching the Devil’s Twins’ Manning and Salem Wolves’ Paul Koelle go at it was a fucking treat to behold. As usual, the rest of the Wolves brought the ruckus as well, and their songs about gin & tonics, witches, and dudes who used to be in hardcore bands never get old. We’ve spilled a lot of digital ink on this band in the past year, and our recommendation has never wavered.
When a band usually plays with the volume on full blast, they tend to develop a knack for slinging noise in all sorts of beautifully messy directions. That’s what Weakened Friends excelled at tonight, as any time the sound felt off or mishandled, it actually fit into the guitar-rock trio’s grungy, rapid-rock assault. And buried deep under all that noise are catchy-as-all-hell pop songs, with hooks and melodies for daze. The detached cool of singer/guitarist Sonia Sturino adds to the appeal, coming off as a mix of Conor Oberst and Karen O (it works). We tweeted out that they were “grunge-pop”, they responded that they were “hair grunge”. Whatever we call them is irrelevant, so for now we’ll just call them 2016 Rumble finalists and go to bed.