Once again, Battle of the Bands was a Winterfest highlight, with four bands competing to take home $500 and a gig at University College’s Fireball dance.
Act I: Newcomer
The night opened with Newcomer filling out the Lee’s Palace stage, and an early crowd reluctant to move too close. After the first song, lead singer Matias Gutierrez invited the crowd to “dance or bounce around,” and bassist Joshua Sofian did his best to fuel the hype by jumping up and down himself.
They played a few new songs, including a particularly catchy number called “Rushed.” Marty Camara stood out on drums, especially during lead single “Zeitgeist.” Gutierrez also caught the crowd’s attention when he threw in a ‘ting goes skraah, pap, pap, ka-ka-ka’ from Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot.” Despite the band’s best attempts to pump up the room, however, only a few brave souls danced beyond the invisible barrier.
Act II: Rocket Bomb
It wasn’t until Rocket Bomb came on and lead singer Jagger Cleeves called out people for “still sitting” that the audience began piling to the front of the stage. Playing popular covers of songs like Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven” really got the crowd dancing.
Drummer Daniel Kiss kept up audience interaction by asking everyone to turn on their phones’ flashlights for a slower, original song, in which Cleeves sang poetically, “This is my uncomfortable place.”
Act III: Dorval
As the ‘redemption’ band competing a second time, Dorval was definitely the most prepared for Lee’s Palace. Their use of stage lighting drew attention to different band members, topping last year’s performance. Dorval’s stage presence had also matured even more — perhaps it was the added presence of bassist James Yoannou, perhaps simply another year of experience.
Daniel Lewycky’s vocals were on fire, bringing to mind blues-rock artist Barns Courtney. Midway, Yoannou announced that it was Lewycky’s birthday, and the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Dorval’s energy was unstoppable for the whole set, with drummer Adam Moffatt actually standing up to play.
Act IV: Basset
Basset rounded out the night with a softer indie folk set. Yasmine Shelton immediately captivated the audience with her powerful voice in a rendition of “Feeling Good.” The rest of the set alternated between original songs and unexpected rearrangements of classics like Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
Watching ensembles perform is quite different from watching rockers. Basset was not rocking out per se, but their shared smiles let the audience know they were enjoying their performance, making them a delight to watch. Musician Sam Clark was proof of their versatility, slinging his mandolin over his back in order to pick up his violin during seamless transitions from one instrument to another.
Notably, Shelton was the only woman to perform at the event, and the first woman to be part of a competing band since 2015’s Battle of the Bands. Even the emcee, Kaitlyn Ferreira, noted that there were “a lot of men performing” at the event. Last year, The Accolades had a female guest singer join them, but for the most part, male artists have dominated the event.
Shelton said that at U of T at least, she rarely sees women in bands, though she is not sure why this is the case. She encouraged women and non-binary people to join ensembles, saying that she does think “there are people who are open to having them there.”
“Maybe it’s just not their first instinct to reach out, but I think having the courage to go out there and find people, maybe that’s what’s lacking,” said Shelton. “But I think it’s worth it.”
“I would say if you are going to join a band with men, make sure they’re great people because the music industry isn’t necessarily known for being particularly great for women,” she added. “The further you go, in a weird way, the fewer options you have in terms of picking your people based on character as opposed to skill level.”
At least on Wednesday night, everyone on and off the stage appeared to be having a good time. The night ended with the judges announcing Dorval as the winners, to the sound of cheers from the audience.