Jack Kerouac wins the battle

The Jack Kerouac Knapsack Band during their first place performance at the QEA Battle of the Bands 2004.
The Jack Kerouac Knapsack Band during their first place performance at the QEA Battle of the Bands 2004.
Adam Bell of the Radical Dudez with his trusty ukulele.
Adam Bell of the Radical Dudez with his trusty ukulele.
Khaki Snack undoubtedly saying something self-deprecating.
Khaki Snack undoubtedly saying something self-deprecating.
Neon Kong is one of the tightest campus bands at Queen’s.
Neon Kong is one of the tightest campus bands at Queen’s.
Paminatrix does her best Lemmy impression.
Paminatrix does her best Lemmy impression.

The night almost started with disaster.

A drunken man stumbled past our table, told us he loved us and mounted the stage. Commandeering the microphone, he slowly seemed to fade, and as he spoke he gradually collapsed to the floor. Adam Bell, lead singer of the Radical Dudez, was dead.

Or rather, he would have been if not for the valiant efforts of two heroic young doctors who, with music as their medicine, revived the grateful Bell, and the Queen’s Entertainment Agency’s Battle of the Bands proceeded without further incident.

As judges, the Journal’s A&E editors sat huddled around a table in Clark Hall Pub on the most crowded of the three nights of the event. A CFRC collective and Battle of the Bands 2002/2003 winners Bedouin Soundclash acted as the other judges last Sunday night.

Two weeks ago, the first five bands pitted their musical integrity against the ruthless opinions of self-important music snobs (and the Soundclash, who were probably a bit more fair in their assessments), with campus favourites the Radical Dudez and the sweatily aggressive Licence to Whore making it to the final round. The following weekend, we all made it out again to give the nod to the supremely smooth and funky Neon Kong and the Jack Kerouac Knapsack Band, a band fronted by a guy that sounds uncannily like Robert Plant, along with the tallest keyboardist in Kingston. The funniest band of the whole ordeal, Khaki Snack, went on to the final round as a wild card and ended up almost bringing down the house with their final performance.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The Radical Dudez drew first, and after their piece of performance art featuring the dying Bell, they put on one of the finest performances of their short career. Songs like “Girls Who Play in the Snow” and “The Ukulele Song” displayed the Dudez’ unique songwriting skills, which feature intelligent and endearing lyrics that are easily remembered. Even fair-weather fans were bobbing along and singing the oft-repeated choruses. In the first of several shout-outs to the other bands, the Dudez went so far as to actually cover songs from the other bands. In a nice nod to Soundclash, the Dudez playfully covered “Santa Monica” as well, much to the delight of the audience.

Licence to Whore took the stage next in full heavy metal garb and, along with their trusty smoke machine, played their musical introduction while the leather-clad front woman Paminatrix sauntered onto the stage. A band with fake monikers that also plays at the lovely Shaker’s Lounge, LTW mixes an aggro punk-like rock sound with the sometimes guttural, sometimes wonderfully contrasting Gwen Steffani-ish voice of Paminatrix.

There is nothing more wonderful than seeing the enthusiastic drummer Pamela behind her kit furiously destroying the skins at a ludicrous pace. Guitarist Ricky Peacefire was in a constant battle with Paminatrix to see who could show more flesh, but with the fast-paced fret work thrown in between ruthless power chords, Peacefire’s sweat-soaked body made most other guys in the room think about moving up their next workout. With the pounding rhythm section of bassist Jaro and Pamela, Paminatrix eventually worked her way out of the head-to-toe leather ensemble in true Shaker’s Lounge fashion. At times the band could be a bit hard to swallow, as their image often superseded their music. However, songs like “Lost Again” and their cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” displayed the band’s talent.

Neon Kong took the stage next, featuring the most feverishly funky bassist of the night, mugging for the camera and dancing frantically throughout the set. The unassuming frontman provided some smooth Jamiroquai-like vocals that came through loud and clear over the music. An unobtrusive, melodic and ambient guitar, along with the tightest and most assured drum work of the night made Neon Kong a very welcome change to the more straightforward rock of the other bands. Neon Kong definitely grooved and allowed their soothing sound to sustain them throughout their set.

Then there was the Jack Kerouac Knapsack Band.

Fans who have followed JKKB throughout their musical career were treated to an unbelievable performance with the inimitable David Wencer’s keys and the grizzly vocals of Dan “The Plant” Quinlan. Guitarist Colin Pendrith tossed his blonde mane and sawed out devastating blues riffs with equal aplomb, while the rhythm section of Connor Thompson on drums and Jamie Cousin on bass kept all the rabid Jack fans trembling with barely-repressed ardour. It has been extremely gratifying to follow this band from their early days of yore (a year ago) as they have evolved from an extremely tight cover band to a group that has far surpassed the expectations of a mere “student band.” The slobbering praise for the group was not relegated to the Journal judges alone: the band predictably captured the title and won this year’s Battle. For the traditional encore, JKKB graciously invited their friends from the other competing bands for a rousing rendition of “Black or White,” proving that although they’ve transcended the cover band mantle, they can still do Michael Jackson like no one else.

Although most bands would dread following a performance like JKKB’s fanbase-enlarging one, Khaki Snack was more than up for the challenge. The three-man band features two guitarists who prove that simplistic repeated chord patterns are more than made up for by sharp, sarcastic wit and wonderfully self-deprecating lyrics. If you haven’t heard the story of how one sad boy was dumped over ICQ on Christmas Eve, or how a confused child realizes Roberto Alomar is actually his father, you’re missing out. The third man in this comedy troupe cum band plays a giant harmonica attached with a homemade neck brace, along with everything from a cowbell to a didgeridoo to a gong. Yes, a gong. Like the Radical Dudez, Khaki Snack did a tribute to the other bands as well, although they simply ad-libbed their way through, talking about the bands mostly by repeating their names over and over. Much to the judges’ delight, the wild card band decided to completely lambaste us, although they did like Bedouin Soundclash. CFRC and especially the Journal were the brunt of some hearty ribbing, although, true to form, Khaki Snack was forever self-deprecating, only insulting us by making fun of themselves. “We don’t want to win first place,” they told us. “Second place has the cash prize.”

The Radical Dudez walked away with second place honours and the $250 cash prize while the Jack Kerouac Knapsack Band will be travelling to York University to compete against other Central Canada Campus Battle of the Bands winners.

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