The Battle of the Bands: funky, intimate, laden with antics

Myriad musical groups duked it out yet again in the warm embrace of Ein-Stein Bierhalle
Battle of the Bands is a U of T tradition — a favourite among the first-timers and a final hooray for the last-timers. NATHALIE WHITTEN/THE VARSITY
Battle of the Bands is a U of T tradition — a favourite among the first-timers and a final hooray for the last-timers. NATHALIE WHITTEN/THE VARSITY

Ein-Stein Bierhalle on College Street was packed on the night of February 29, and for good reason. Sipping on a Red Bull, I watched my friends get lost in a sea of bodies. The night slowly but surely descended into a kind of controlled chaos that was totally intoxicating. Everyone in the crowd knew what they had come for ­— crowd surfing, bouncer taunting, blood-on-your-guitar goodness. Teenage antics. Punk rock.

Members of the certifiably uncool, such as myself, were not ready for what was to come. I had expected a simple night at ‘Stein’s’ with a pitcher and some live music — a familiar scenario for most seasoned U of T goers. I had even invited a few unsuspecting friends to come and dance while I stood to the side and took notes, playing the role of a non-participant observer.

Battle of the Bands 3: Tokyo Drift was held by the University of Toronto Scene Initiative as their third such event this year. It showcased student bands, playing against each other for this year’s prize: the chance to win undying glory and the belt of champions.

After a moment of waiting in silence and expectantly sipping our drinks, the first act came out: Rocket Bomb. If their name isn’t a Scott Pilgrim reference, I’ll be disappointed. Like the calm before a storm, Rocket Bomb delivered to the crowd some feel-good indie rock vibes. They played an upbeat, synth-y set, embracing an aesthetic that I would describe as ’80s glam metal meeting garage rock.

When I asked a member of the crowd — who looked a little bit more qualified to answer the substantive music questions than myself — how they would describe the sound of Rocket Bomb, they answered with “funky.” So there you go. Rocket Bomb was funky, and as I swayed back and forth to an indie synth cover of “Circles” by Post Malone, I had no complaints.

NATHALIE WHITTEN/THE VARSITY

The second act went by the name Closer, and from the moment they stepped on stage, they started working the crowd up effortlessly.

Closer’s name was fitting for their set; with each song, the energy in the room got closer to a fever pitch. I noticed the vocals getting louder and the drums becoming more frantic as their set rocked on. The energy of the crowd matched this crescendo, growing in intensity and increasing the vigour with which they playfully pushed each other around the room. I found myself shielding my camera and notebook.

The lead vocalist was a crowd favourite, brandishing a mop of headbang-worthy curls and a pop-punk vocal style that would make Tom DeLonge proud. Closer used the vertical plane of the room to their advantage — guitarists stood on benches, getting an aerial view of the crowd, while the lead singer crouched to the ground, encouraging all of us to stoop down with him.

The lack of barriers or a raised stage made the whole event feel more intimate. As people continuously pushed forward, it was becoming difficult to tell where the crowd ended and the band began.

Frankie the Pig came out third, bringing even more punk spirit and crowd-pleasing gritty vocals. They played hard — maybe a little too hard, actually, as one member broke a guitar string mid performance. The band played it cool during this minor setback, engaging the audience with chants and jokes until a replacement instrument was located. Frankie the Pig finished their set strong.

By now, I was beginning to feel like a seasoned mosh-er, quickly learning that the best way to stay on my feet was to loosen up and sway with the crowd. I even experimented with some light headbanging.

NATHALIE WHITTEN/THE VARSITY

Finally, we got along to The Get Alongs — yes, this joke is absolutely why I should not have been allowed at this show.

I had heard whispers about this foursome before the event had even started, and The Get Alongs certainly gave everyone what they came for.

It was clear that many people had come for The Get Alongs, and they had come to let loose. Musicians with long hair and creative outfits — hello, denim overalls — marched into the room with veteran confidence. As the reigning champions hit the stage, the shift in energy was palpable.

The previous three sets were commemorated by detailed notes on my part, but as I sift through my papers looking for some remnant of The Get Alongs, I find myself empty handed. Perhaps this tells you everything you need to know.

I danced. A lot. So much, in fact, that I had mild whiplash the next day. I also joined the tightly packed crowd, learning the fun of exchanging friendly pushes with strangers.

The antics during the set had many people wondering whether the whole thing would get cut short — there were some disagreements between security and the band about whether crowd surfing and furniture climbing were amusing activities.

The Get Alongs prevailed, however, and stood their ground until the last song, garnering roars of applause and calls for an encore. Unsurprisingly, they took home the belt at the end of the night.

As the crowds dissipated and instruments were packed into cases, I knew I had witnessed a special side of the university. At the peak of the event, spectators were packed all the way to the door. Clearly, this is a tradition that students love.

Editor’s Note (January 9, 1:26 pm): This article has been updated to correct the name of Rocket Bomb and to correct that the event was held by the University of Toronto Scene Initiative. The Varsity regrets the errors. 

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