March 23 2010 12:00 AM

Technical problems don't rattle rockers as they vie for an Ionia Free Fair slot

The Battle of Bands preliminaries were held March 20 at
Riedy’s White Rose Caf in downtown Charlotte; the winning group goes on to
compete at the Battle of Bands this summer at the Ionia Free Fair on July 23.

Riedy’s White Rose Caf is a pleasant two-story
bar/restaurant. The contest was held upstairs in a large rectangular room with
red brick walls and high ceilings. It was not built for optimal acoustic

The first band, Bluewater, took the stage at about 8:30 p.m.
They were actually a duo of two guitarist/singers that played acoustic guitars
with no additional instruments backing them up. They weren’t bad, but Tenacious
D they were not.

In all fairness, I have to say that I couldn’t make out a
word they sang in any of their songs. They may have been better than I thought
but whomever was working the mixer board couldn’t seem to get the microphone
levels right, and those brick walls weren’t helping. Also, the people in the
crowd were all talking to each other and were as loud as the band. This first
duo was a bit out of place, considering the bands that followed. But it was a
decent effort on their part.

Batteries Not Included was the second band to take the stage. They
opened with a pretty good rendition of “China Grove” by the Doobie
Brothers and got the crowd’s attention. Next was an original, “Friends ’Til the
End,” that sounded like an OK song — but there seemed to be problems getting
the levels right on the instruments and microphones so it sounded a bit muffled
and was hard to judge. This was followed by a remake of the TI song “Whatever
You Like”; they turned this well- known hip-hop song into a very impressive
rock song. Everyone in the crowd (including myself) was pleased with the

They followed this with another original song, “Open Road,”
that was pretty rockin’, and finished with a great rendition of 38 Special’s
“Hold On Loosely” that prompted cheers and applause from the audience.
Throughout the performance the levels on the instruments were a bit off, but
this was no fault of the band.

The third band to take the stage, Underlying Cause, had
difficulties from the start, both with sound levels and apparently some
additional technical difficulties. It took them about 15 minutes and a false
start on their first song to get them mostly worked out, but once they did this
four-piece band did quite well. Their first song, “Reckless,” was a very good
original with a punk flavor to it. They followed this with two more originals:
“Control,” which had a good rockin’ groove, and “Fly Above,” which started out a little slower put
picked up nicely. This song had an ’80s rock sound to it, although the singer
seemed to be struggling with it just a bit. A pretty good rendition of
Candlebox’s “Cover Me” followed, and they finished with a great rendition of
“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin that definitely pleased the audience. There
were still some sound level problems during their performance, but this band
had performed well and got the most positive audience response up to that

The fourth band was Treynrek, a Detroit-based band. This band had great
musicians, but a singer that seemed mismatched for the material. Their choice
of songs was fantastic: “Killing in the Name Of” by Rage Against The Machine,
“Dead and Bloated” by Stone Temple Pilots, and “Bad Religion” by Godsmack were
the first three.

The musicians in the band did an absolutely fantastic job of
playing these songs, but something just sounded amiss with the singer. After
verifying my suspicions with a number of audience members, I have to say that
his voice was just the wrong pitch for this kind of music. They performed three
additional songs, all originals, that didn’t blow anybody’s hair back. The
first, “Muerta,” had a familiar sound to it and didn’t seem to interest the
audience very much. The singer tried to get everyone clapping during this song
and had very few takers. “Stairwell” seemed to be a good song, but the singer
was definitely struggling to hit the right notes on this one. And their final
number, “Story of Your Life,” seemed like a solid song but again, the singer
just wasn’t the right fit for this type of music. They finished with a lukewarm

about 11 p.m. the last band competing in the contest took the stage. It was a
local area band called Sonic Mosaic. This impressive trio performed four original
songs that had a ’70s-‘80s rock sound. “Negative Proof Positive” was a great
thumping rocker that got fantastic audience response. “Just Speculation” had a
great groove but seemed to be one step short in the rhythm. The fourth tune
they performed was “Fortunes of Men,” and this song rocked: It also had a
fantastic ending that had the audience cheering enthusiastically. They finished
their set with an incredible rendition of Rush’s “Limelight.” This had to be
the best performance of a Rush song I have ever heard a local band perform.
There were again some problems with the microphone levels, but the audience was
extremely pleased with their performance and they received the best response
with loud applause and cheering.

So, what did the judges think? Well, their judgment didn’t totally mesh
with what I was hearing in audience response to the bands. The winners were:

First place: Traynrek

Second place: Batteries Not Included

Third place: Sonic Mosaic.

But if I had to judge the contest by audience response it
would have been:

First place: Sonic Mosaic

Second place: Underlying Cause

Third place: Batteries Not Included

The evening finished out with a wonderful crowdpleasing band
called Hangnail that will also be performing at the Ionia Free Fair. I would
have to say that even with the technical difficulties this was a fun night out,
and everyone seemed to have a very good time in Charlotte.