Armed with a rocket-fueled arsenal of pop-polished punk songs, an inspired Dead Boys cover, and a bizarre scenario that saw her set interrupted midway through by a fire alarm and immediate evacuation of ONCE’s ballroom and lounge, Johnson and her amplified rock and roll trio became the first female-led band to win the Rumble since the Dresden Dolls won it in 2003.
“Rock and roll is alive and well,” Johnson remarked earlier on in her set, and judging from the landscape at ONCE on this Rumble finale, that sentiment was extremely accurate.
Earlier in the evening, Manchester-By-The-Sea’s The Rupert Selection played a frenzied 30-minute set that combined uptempo post-rock, elements of prog, and a riff-mad psychedelic assault on the senses. The trio at times veered dangerously close to jam-session territory, but often shifted gears so quickly it was not only hard to peg them into one specific sound or vibe to also difficult to settle into any sort of ease of listening. Both thunderous and jagged, they kept the crowd on its toes as they zig-zagged through a wealth of stylistic approaches; the band may have also had the loudest and most eager response from the assembled crowd, which at times shouted back well-placed “Hey’s!” that filled in the band’s instrumental stretches. If there was one band that had a true coming out party at the ’17 Rumble, it was The Rupert Selection.
Kicking things off were the hard-chargin’ and rock-chuggin’ Hey Zeus, equipped with a giant light-up cross that reminded us all that were are only a few days removed from Easter Sunday. More than a few folks likely had Bice Nathan’s rowdy and cocksure lads pegged as early favorites to win the Rumble crown (Nathan’s Goddamn Draculas won it in 2014), and their high-octane run to the finals (slotted tonight as a wild card entry) had much to do with their ability to both rock the fuck out and not take themselves too seriously as the riffage rained down.
Any other year, perhaps, and either The Rupert Selection or Hey Zeus would have walked out of ONCE doused in champagne. But this was Johnson’s year, buoyed the shredding efforts of guitar wiz Steph Curran, the tightness of drummer Nick Hall, and a focus that didn’t wane once the lights went up and the fire alarm began to blare. The fire drill went like this: Roughly midway through Johnson’s set, her mic cut out and it appeared as if some technical difficulties were about to flare up. But then the house lights burst on, and the band slowly erred out of their rhythm, unsure how to proceed. Not knowing what was happening, the crowd was then informed by ONCE staff to leave the premises immediately, and the 300-or-so all moseyed out into the rain, calm and orderly, as Somerville police and fire arrived on the scene.
After abut 20 minutes, the room was cleared (we heard a rumor the fire alarm was set off in the church space located within the same building as ONCE, but couldn’t get confirmation on that). Johnson didn’t waste a second, ripping back into her set as the masses began to re-fill the venue, and an air of opportunity started to arise. A few killer songs later, Johnson tore into a punchy cover of Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” and closed her set out with 2016 standout anthem “Fuel Heart.” As she walked off the stage, it was clear she and her band would get one last moment front and center.
And after a guest set by 2007 Rumble champs Township, it arrived: