By David Robin
Stony Brook is known to many as a commuter school with no student life and depressed students. One characteristic that doesn’t help is the fact that Stony Brook doesn’t have a strong music scene. In the 1970s, Jimi Hendrix played several times at Stony Brook and the Blue Oyster Cult actually formed here. There were more concerts and, as a result, Stony Brook had a more lively campus. While the current music scene at the Brook cannot be compared to that of the 1970s, the Arts, Culture and Humanities’ Battle of the Bands, which took place at the Tabler Arts Center on Thursday, April 3, proved that it still exists, even if it is usually hidden. “There’s no way this is the most depressing university in the nation, those bastards at the Princeton review have us pinned wrong,” said Carlos Parreno, Keyboardist/vocalist/guitarist for The Gekko State, referencing Stony Brook’s rating as the campus with the most unhappy students.
The Tabler Black Box Theatre was crowded on the crisp Thursday evening, and the crowd was ready for a competition. The event was technically the semifinals of the Battle of the Bands. Six bands were chosen, based on demos that had been submitted a month earlier, and the three winners advanced to the finals, which take place on Thursday, April 24 at the Tabler Café Black Box Theatre. There were two stages set up, which kept the concert moving at a quick pace. Once one band finished, the next band was already set up and ready to start playing on the opposite stage. The Gekko State was the first band up, and they started the night on a high note. The six-piece band included a vocalist, a keyboardist, a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist and a violinist—Press staffer Cindy Liu! They had a unique style and brought the crowd into the show. Early in their set, there were microphone problems, and neither vocalist was heard very well by the crowd. The bassist and drummer switched off and their keyboardist also played guitar and performed vocals. During their final song, the female vocalist held up individual signs for the crowd saying, “It’s you. It’s me. And there’s dancing!” Ignoring the technical issues, the Gekko State put on a solid performance.
The next band to follow The Gekko State was the Dan Dedora Five, who, interestingly, only had four members. They included a guitarist, a bassist, a vocalist and a drummer. They played three songs, “I’m Yours,” “Don’t Look Down” and “Before You.” The last two songs were original compositions. Their style was softer and mellower than the other bands, and they showcased it very well. They were followed by Honus Wagner, a three-person band consisting of a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer/vocalist, which added a different sound to their performance. Their diverse set of influences include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Soundgarden, Tool and Glassjaw, according to Mike Taffet, the energy-filled bassist of the band. These influences can be heard clearly in their music, which combines the styles into a diverse sound. While the entire band showed energy, Taffet in particular was all over the stage and, at one point, went into the crowd while playing. According to Taffet, this is a normal occurrence, and he told me a story about how, at the University Café, he went outside while playing a song and simultaneously talked to a girl who was smoking a cigarette. “Part of being in a band is [entertaining] people, whether there are 3 people or 300.” Honus Wagner did what they planned to do, and fully entertained the crowd.
The great performance by Honus Wagner was followed by a band called Mother F’Nature. The band included the lead singer, who also played acoustic guitar, a bassist, two guitarists and a drummer. One of the guitarists also played keyboard during some of the songs. They had an experimental sound that could be considered indie rock. Mother F’Nature came out with an explosion of energy and the lead singer kept it up during the entire set. She had very strong vocals and fed off the crowd very well. They had the most energy of any band who played at Battle of the Bands. After they finished, Thursday Was Cloudy was ready for their set on the opposite stage. The three-piece group included a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer, with the guitarist and bassist as vocalists. Their music was solid and their lyrics were catchy but some in the crowd were not into it. People in the crowd labeled them an emo band and this may have disinterested some.
However, they played a good set and set the stage for the final band, Vector Red. Vector Red had the most punk sound of any band that night. They included a bassist/vocalist, guitarist and a drummer. They were also full of energy and really tried to get the crowd into the music. In my opinion, the lead singer needs improvement in his vocal technique but the music was solid. They played a few original songs followed by a cover of a song by At the Drive In. They put on a good show and ended the night on a high note.
Soon after, Honus Wagner, Mother F’Nature and Thursday was Cloudy were announced as the winners, who will play in the finals. The crowd was ready for a competition when they entered the Tabler Black Box and most of them were satisfied with the ending. It wasn’t only about the competition. It was about people at Stony Brook coming to a concert to hear music and leaving with the feeling of satisfaction—they just heard live music, and it was awesome. Both Mike and Carlos stated that there are many musicians and music fans in Tabler alone and there are many more on the rest of the campus. Mike thought the event was important because it was a competition that gave the bands a place to play in front of hundreds of people. “We have a music scene, but it is victim to its members, [who], I feel, are closed to themselves and choose one dominating or popular sound…as a campus we should be open, eclectic and inviting. Given the new resources we are definitely on our way to creating a community of musicians who simply want to express that which they have created,” said Carlos. While Battle of the Bands may not rejuvenate the Stony Brook music scene, it is a step in the right direction.