Concert Review: Broadway Battle of the Bands, NYC 5/17/08

Catching-up continues in the land of the Gothic Lolita…

I had the pleasure of taking a trip to NYC to catch the final two performances of original cast members Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening, and the equally pleasurable chance to catch the second annual Broadway Battle of the Bands at the Zipper Factory.  The night was brimming with music, with multiple ‘openers’ to the actual ‘battle’ (for which, strangely, no winner was chosen!), making for an enormous showcase of Broadways talent.

Up first was Lauren Pritchard, a name Spring Awakening fans will recognize as the original Ilse from the Broadway production.  Explaining that she’d declined to compete as she was a single artist and not a true band, Lauren wove her way through an incredible set of original songs, all of which I hope to possess in September of this year when her first album hits the shelves via Sony.  Lauren’s stage mannerisms speak to someone who is looking for a reassurance, an understandable emotion in a newcomer to the music scene.  However, Lauren need not worry, as she deftly wound the audience around her finger with her soulful piano numbers.

Her voice conjures up a cross between Fiona Apple’s rich and emotive voice, moving from sorrow to fiesty determination in a split second, and the gritty edge of Janis Joplin.  The songs themselves also glimmer with a similar witty vocabulary to Apple, but radiate their own unique energy, making Lauren a stand-apart and, in my opinion, one of the strongest performers of the entire night.  For a taste of what is to come, take a listen to the songs available on her MySpace page, both of which were performed that night.

Lauren Pritchard – MySpace

Another highlight of the evening was the group Ancestree, also not competing, featuring Chester Gregory II (Hairspray, Cry-Baby) belting out soulful numbers that hit to the core.  A large ensemble of vocal harmonies and bluesy-tribal vibes, Chester commanded the stage with a presence that would make James Brown proud and perhaps even envious.  What an incredible tenor!  Definitely another one to check out and watch for, without questions.  For those in the NYC area, his CD Release party is soon!

Chester Gregory’s site

Kacie Sheik (sister to recording artist Duncan Sheik) was also in top form, with a strong set of pipes in tow as she performed songs from the musical Superchicks, a project she’s been involved with.  A part of me, watching Chester Gregory later on, thought the two of them could make one hell of a duet, ideally something gritty and moving.  She reminds me in some ways of Joss Stone in terms of delivery and vocal power, but her range isn’t quite as low as Ms. Stone.

Kacie Sheik’s MySpace

We were also treated to a brief performance from one Our Lady J, whose music is described as ‘gospel for the 21st century’.  If by gospel Lady J means songs about killing the man who broke your heart and his woman (but a hilarious song!), sign me up for that church!  A beloved staple of the scene, you can check out some of the more serious works of Our Lady J on MySpace.

Our Lady J – MySpace

And then, the competitors…

First up was Kyle Jarrow’s band The Fabulous Entourage, and things seemed incredibly promising at first.
The band’s throwback synth-driven sound reminded me of the 80’s circa Talking Heads and old-school B 52’s.  Kyle had the quirky stage presence and voice to back up the look and sound.  The song themselves were solid retro-pop-rock fun.  But then…  Then, Libby happened.

Her pink hair and short-shorts should have made me wary, but I chalked it up to the retro-crazy vibe of the entire band.  But when she opened her mouth to sing, I had no choice but to conclude that she is so wired on something, possibly merely life itself, that she cannot modulate her voice nor carry a note properly.  She was more screeching than singing her parts, drowning out the lead vocals consistently, and it was not a pretty sound.  It’s an incredible shame, because I would otherwise add them alongside Toronto indie band Slave to the SQUAREwave in my collection of retro goodness.  Judge for yourself at their site.

Fabulous Entourage official site

Second to the battle that wasn’t was the trio known as Groovelily, all of whom sang lead in turn and played
moody, mellow pieces derived from musicals they’ve created and finishing with a track from their album.  What struck me most about Groovelily is their utter ease on stage and performing as a band;  they are obviously not merely comfortable due to stage work but because they know each other as bandmates to the point of an easy flow from one piece to the next.  While I would have preferred they demonstrate more of their ‘written for the band’ songs to gain a full appreciation of their capabilities, they put on a decent set (and did not screech off-key!).

Groovelily official site

Last up:  Albinokid, a band fronted by Anthony Rapp, who originated the role of Mark in Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent.  Running through two original pieces before rocking out a spot-on rendition of The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star (a personal favourite of mine), my one complaint for Albinokid was the lack of bandmate cohesion displayed minutes prior by Groovelily.  The band seemed out of sync in places, which brought down the calibre of what could have been an incredibly solid performance.  Anthony was in fine form, with his stage mannerisms reminding this Canadian of Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida and his tendency to freeze and almost withdraw from the audience during solos, only to spring back to life with the next verse.

AlbinoKid has no site to speak of, but you can keep up with things on Anthony Rapp’s MySpace…

Anthony Rapp’s MySpace

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