The Barn hosted ASPB’s Battle of the Bands event Tuesday night in hopes of crowning one lucky band the winner of a $250 cash prize and a performance during a spring quarter nooner. As I entered the Barn, I saw a mixture of students and, judging from the little boys actively exploring the venue, family and friends. Several people ordered food and scanned the rows of chairs before settling in to watch some of UCR’s talented student bands.
First up was the Norms, an indie-rock band hailing from here in Riverside. Led by lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Gabriel Benitez Jr., the group of four immediately exuded confidence and charisma. Their onstage chemistry allowed them to play with an ease that’s hard to come by. Also making up the band was bassist Curtis Hatter, lead guitarist Austin McCraken and drummer Eric Drake, who effectively kept the band in tempo throughout the entire set. The audience of about 60 or more attendees clapped generously after each song and bobbed their heads to the breezy melodies and catchy choruses of the song “Tomorrow,” and their ending track, “Sleepy.” Benitez’s strong vocals were impressive and left me with the feeling that the Norms would be a tough act to follow.
The downtime between setups was extensive and concertgoers decided to use this time to converse with friends and continue ordering food. A few more people filled up empty seats just in time for the Morose Project, a minimal wave trio from Los Angeles. Clad in a sweater and scarf, lead singer Samuel Barba was determined to create the perfect atmosphere for their performance, continually motioning to the person in charge of sound near the back of the room to increase the volume or add reverb. As the undeniable lights of cell phones emerged from different places throughout the Barn, it was becoming clear that he was taking up a little too much time. Even when their set officially began, Barba continued making gestures to the back of the room.
If you were able to look past these distractions, you’d notice the music was actually pretty good. Barba was undeniably feeling the music as he sang and danced around the stage while both the bass and guitar players stayed cool, calm and collected throughout the set. Suddenly, smoke began to rise near the front of the stage and I panicked. However, before I could make a break for the door I realized it was simply a fog machine, another tactic the Morose Project was using to enhance their performance. I regained my composure and listened to the band finish off their set. They created the kind of house music that could easily be a crowd favorite at any party or club and if the audience had been a bit more alive, I’m almost certain that some dancing would’ve ensued.
Last but not least was alternative hip-hop band FourteenK. Originally from the greater LA area, Bryan Ramos, Benjamin Aragbaye and Barin Butler took the stage with an enormous amount of energy and even got the crowd cheering during their soundcheck. Although technically the band is only comprised of three people, a total of seven participated in their set and proceeded to prove that not only can mixing two genres be interesting, but that it can work. Rap intertwined with soul, and the rock elements proved to be a hit and got what had been a generally lackluster crowd waving their arms in the air.
The group possessed versatility in both their sound and their stage presence. Aragbaye rapped with a quickness that was just as energetic as he was and Ramos did much of the same, but with the addition of a guitar. Butler added a soulful vibe as he slowed it down and interjected smooth vocals throughout each of their songs. FourteenK continued with their songs “P.W.D” and “Lorraine” and even got the audience to clap along during “Take Off,” which produced a mini-dance party among those I’m assuming were friends of the band. Before the song ended, the dancers even managed to persuade a few people to join in on the fun and dance near the front of the stage. “Encore!” could be heard throughout the Barn as the band exited the stage and concluded the night’s performances.
Three guest judges, including a KUCR DJ, were left to deliberate and produce a winner. Members from each of the bands chatted with guests in the audience and each other as they waited in anticipation. Within a few minutes, two ASPB members walked onto the stage to crown the winner. “And the winner is … FourteenK!” they announced, as an eruptive cheer emerged from the band and others from the crowd. The group took to the stage to announce that they would be holding a concert the same day as HEAT at the Getaway Cafe and to thank everyone for attending.
A few people stayed to talk to the band and check out the merchandise they had for sale before exiting the venue. As I walked out of the Barn, the cool air hit me like a ton of bricks. However, I seemed to be the only one who noticed how cold it was. Everyone was laughing and talking after what I think is safe to say was a good night of music. Battle of the Bands did an excellent job of displaying the array of talent at UCR and certainly earned the showcased bands some new fans.