Fat Robot’s victorious battle

In the end, Fat Robot took home the big prize at Monday’s Battle of the Bands final.
In the end, Fat Robot took home the big prize at Monday’s Battle of the Bands final.
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Concert Review
QEA Battle of the Bands Final @ Clark Hall Pub, Feb. 13

Clark Hall Pub’s sizeable Battle of the Bands crowd was not quite hushed or attentive last Monday night as QEA Head Manager Aaron Libbey announced “And the judges’ scores ... ”

Rat-a-tat-tat-tat.

“ ... Can you ease up on the Buck Hunter for a minute, dude?”

Dude could be forgiven for his lack of respectful anticipation. While the four bands were separated by a spread of only 15 out of a possible 200 points (scored on style, technical ability, energy, and audience reception), Fat Robot had just finished dismantling the competition, and anything else was a matter of sorting through the rubble. The judges—two DJs from Smijie’s and Alfie’s, a representative from CFRC and The Grad Club manager Virginia Clark—could only confirm what was ringing in everyone’s ears.

The night was organized in ascending order of awesome, which still had to start somewhere—in this case, with The Intangibles. Unassuming young men playing unassuming modern rock music, their set began competently, with a clean ’90s guitar sound and solid harmonies.

Adam Lisk has some potential as a vocalist, but seemed painfully ill-at-ease in front of an audience, fidgeting with the mic cord and entirely absenting himself from the stage during a Collective Soul-inspired rock out.

No one looked especially happy to be there aside from guitarist Jeremy Kronick, who was more enthusiastic than the rest of the room combined. Lack of stage presence aside, things began to disintegrate when a guitar went out of tune during the fourth song and remained so for much of the remainder of the set, throwing off the rest of the band and ruining whatever winsome melodies they may have built.

Greater and lesser entrants in past battles have stumbled over the novelty cover and The Intangibles couldn’t avoid that particular snare either, choosing to wrap up by mocking the similarity between Matthew Good Band’s “Everything Is Automatic” and “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters. This was bizarre at best, and interminable at worst.

Until The Intangibles have more live confidence and cohesion, straight-faced jokes and James Van der Beek’s body double will not winners make.

Mass of Distraction announced their credo as “inside of everyone, there’s a need to dance” and, to that end, busted out a set of smooth funk that attracted both dancing girls and respect for their technical proficiency, particularly guitarist Mike Maggrah and drummer Jo Milloy. Their set included a few keyboard-heavy instrumental jams that would have made past victors the Jack Kerouac Knapsack Band proud.

Other high points included a cover of “Play That Funky Music” and an original titled “Jo’s Night Out.” Mass of Distraction’s weakness was being slightly too smooth: their performance and style were sometimes so mannered and professional they had difficulty engaging the audience, and their mellower moments of background music were better suited to a martini bar crowd.

The artists formerly known as Electric Mayhem—-The Laginsky Reunion—have significantly improved their songwriting and performance skills since before their name change, balancing out their love of classic rock and prog with a developing sense of melody and increased respect for the average person’s patience.

Wearing matching “tuxedos” drawn in permanent markers on white T-shirts, they were more unified as a band—aesthetically and otherwise—than anyone who had played before them. They demonstrated impressive live chemistry, especially between guitarists Alex Denike and Michael McCreary.

Songs like “One Night Sally” showed a knack for crafting songs you think you’ve heard before, but haven’t.

“Watch Your Step” draws from later, poppier influences than much of their other material and rides the kind of undeniable, heart-swelling hook that shows up in everything from “Dancing In The Dark” to “All These Things That I’ve Done” through a snowballing, keys-heavy outro that could leave even an indie kid all shiny-eyed.

Unfortunately, the Laginsky Reunion lost momentum and focus in the second half of their set, starting with another backfiring novelty cover. In this case, it was the gloriously awkward “Just 2 Guyz” by comedy collective The Lonely Island—which, out of context, was just uncomfortably awkward.

They closed with their signature cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” the problem being that they needed a signature original instead.

The Laginsky Reunion’s mostly commendable performance earned them a runner-up finish, which would have been a surprising result if you hadn’t seen Fat Robot.

Driving home the importance of coordinated outfits to musical quality and band cohesion, all of Fat Robot dressed in red T-shirts and jeans, and proceeded to play in a completely different universe than anything that had happened earlier that night.

Confident without aggressively trying to prove themselves, they naturally commanded the stage and the audience’s attention.

Fat Robot play at the Modest Mouse-y end of OC-approved indie rock: chiming, angular but enthusiastic guitar; fluid, singing bass lines; and drums that don’t take any shit. The massive drum rumble of “Gabbo” was authoritative enough to syncopate the heartbeats of everyone in attendance as Tristan Whitehead sang “It was two years ago I first heard that song straight out my radio/It was a lullaby of a different kind, and I had no doubt in my mind.” Whitehead turned in a remarkably consistent and nuanced vocal performance and showed up every other frontman that night. Fat Robot were also the only band to rely on the strength of their own material, aside from a cover of their old band Modus Operandi’s “Here and Now.”

Closer “Nightvision” sounded kind of like Sheryl Crow’s “My Favourite Mistake” sped up, disco-punked, and as if it was flirting with The Police. Much like poutine, the result was better than the combination of ingredients might suggest. Fittingly, it concluded with choreographed robot dance moves.

For their slacker boy band efforts, Fat Robot won a $100 gift certificate for Kingston Sound Works and an opening slot for The Most Serene Republic’s upcoming Kingston date. While all four finalists should be congratulated, they only partially represented the impressive student acts at Queen’s—who you owe it to yourself to check out before they graduate and get real jobs.

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