By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Music is subjective. There is no right and no wrong. No winners, no losers. Just do what you feel, man. Right?
Wrong! This is America, after all. We like everything to be a competition (Go Cards!). We're so addicted to struggle and strife that we have television shows about who can eat the most goat scrotums or be the biggest psycho-bitch (That's the plot of The Simple Life, right? The psycho-bitch part, I mean. I have no idea if Paris Hilton eats goat scrotums.) So why should music be any different? Opinions are meaningless. You think you're good. Your boyfriend likes your band. Who cares? My mom says I'm the best-looking guy in school. Let's see some hard numbers to back up your claims.
Cold data is what you'll get at the Cicero's Battle of the Bands, now in its sixth year. Every Thursday in October, three bands go head to head to earn their way into the final round, scheduled for the last Thursday of the month (October 28). As one of the few battles in town with a long track record and heavy fan support, it's a real brawl. So let's get it on!
Last Thursday's preliminary featured Hazard to Ya Booty, Plum Tucker and Sac Lunch. Hazard to Ya Booty came on first, and they brought a whole party onstage with them. At least, that's what it looked like from the crowd. You don't see too many sexually and racially integrated eight-piece funk bands anymore (later in the night, lead singer Ryan Stewart would tell me that they'd recently shrunk from a ten-piece). Despite a band name so bad it hurts to type it, HYB brought a heapin' helpin' of funk to the party. Literally singing the praises of Maceo Parker and George Clinton, the onstage party spilled out into the crowd. Good stuff.
The bass player, who gave his name as "Afro" Ed, kicked more than his fair share of ass. This is key for a funk band, where the bass player is probably the most important member. Ed's six-stringer belted out the backbone, and he was nimble enough that I actually enjoyed his bass solo. (The first one, anyway.)
HYB doesn't add anything out of the ordinary to its funk -- they should take note that George Clinton augmented his Maceo with a little Frank Zappa. And the slow numbers dragged. Still, they're far better than their name. (It can happen: The Ass Ponys are pretty good too.)
It's hard not to feel a little sorry for Plum Tucker. The guys' sexless, Dave Matthews-esque rock seemed a little pale after the dark dollops of funk that preceded them. Plus -- and this isn't their fault at all -- they came on during the last three innings of a very close playoff game (did I mention "Go Cards"?). So it was hard for some people to resist sitting out part of their set to watch the Redbirds seal the deal. But Plum Tucker's fervent fans were present and accounted for themselves by shaking their moneymakers for an entire hour. Cicero's is one of the few rock bars in town where the dance floor actually gets danced on.
Third up was Sac Lunch (well, a better name than HYB), a jammy live hip-hop collective with tons of energy and an MC, Watt$on, with great breath control. Sac Lunch was the most interesting band of the night, with horn-blowing and verbal interplay mixing with guitar solos and booty-funk. They were great fun, but did they have what it would take to swim through the sea of funk that might separate them from victory? We'd have to go to the ballots to see.
Between bands, looking around the windowless venue, I noticed that the battle was sponsored by Miller Lite and Boulevard. And the weekly Jake's Leg show is sponsored by Pabst. Madahoochi's gigs are sponsored by Rolling Rock. Where are the St. Louis beers? Hell, is there even a Budweiser sign in the room?
The walls started closing in. I was surrounded by Communists.
There's a Bud sign over the soundboard in the back on the bar. Whew. Later Cicero's Jay Mumma pointed out an older, dusty one. He says there's no conspiracy about Lou brews at his club; they just haven't offered to sponsor anything. This is foolish on the part of the beer makers. Cicero's boasts one of the healthiest club scenes in the city. Mumma, unlike almost every other booker I talk to, admitted that business is great. (You have no idea how rare this is. Ask the normal club owner how business is, and they'll weep and gnash their teeth and tear out their hair, all but throwing themselves on the coffin of their dying club.) Cicero's is always packed.
They've carved out their niche with jam bands, a type of music that's always popular, especially with college students. But it's more than that. The people at Cicero's all know each other. Standing next to Mumma, it seemed that every patron of the club came over to say hello.
It's this strong scene that's made this Battle of the Bands such a force. Can you guess who won? Yes, HYB'll be moving on to the finals. Find out who's taking them on by showing up for the final preliminary round on Thursday. It'll be between Jeremiah Bridge, the Evolutions and Remedy. I wish them luck. They're going to need it if they make it to the 28th.