All Access Magazine Articles

January 24, 2008

Emergenza battle of bands lights up The Joint in Beverly Hills

Nine fledgling groups compete for spots on tour, with four emerging victorious

By Rob Swick

EmergenzaA little club called The Joint sits on Pico Boulevard in Beverly Hills, appearing unassuming and compact, but it turns out to be surprisingly spacious inside, as it had to be on Friday, Jan. 11th, when The Joint was host to the Los Angeles “Round One” installment of the Emergenza musical competition. That night, nine bands played and prayed for the privilege of moving up to the next level of participation. Originating in Europe about 15 years ago, Emergenza has become a worldwide way for new bands to gain exposure and experience, performing in shows that are actually “battle of bands” competitions. The L.A. event featured a rich spectrum of talent, from intriguing singer-songwriters Brooke Trout and Mike Burns to punk-rockers Fozzy’s Hero to horn-heavy Awesome Possum to upbeat rock-rapper Sacrifice. Also vying for victory were Fable, Thomas’ Apartment, Jeff Clayman Band, and Elisa Victoria.

At about 8 p.m., while fans and observers were only just beginning to fill the floor, spicy emcee Christine introduced Fable, a four-man outfit from Rancho Cucamonga, to begin the battle. Vocalist Marc, bassist Larry, drummer Drew, and lively guitarist Greg teamed ably on a brief but solid set of alt-rock compositions, with Marc’s singing reaching high and clear. The fellows in Fable weren’t necessarily long on “image,” but they were certainly well-grounded in sound. Following Fable’s set, Christine asked folks to raise their hands if they’d like to see the band remain on the Emergenza roster for the next rung of participation. Some supportive hands and voices were lifted for the ice-breaking opening band, but the writing was on the wall: this show was goingEmergenza to be a popularity contest, and whoever was able to bring the most bodies to the venue was destined to come out on top, which meant that Fable could be facing some serious competition, as patrons continued to mosey on into The Joint.

Awesome Possum took the stage next, a multi-ethnic six-piece band from South-Central L.A. that included two trumpets and a trombone (Brandon, Marcus and Alex), adding authenticity to a ska-infused sound that featured front-man Felipe singing in both English and Spanish. With Luis on bass, Jesús on guitar, and Miguel on drums, Awesome Possum laid down jazzy riffs and punchy choruses, delivering peppy pieces about life in the big city, including one that spoke of “my little punk rock girl” – definitely a hit with the folks on the floor.

Then came the intriguing creativity of Brooke Trout, who was sheathed in a silvery-blue gown that caused one observer to compare the playfully enigmatic artist to a mermaid. Supported by Alex on bass, Stu on drums, and Mike on guitar electric guitar, Brooke strummed her own acoustic axe while playing several selections from her outstanding 2006 release, “Bittersweet,” beginning by pouring out a “Suburban Cocktail” for the crowd. Regrettably, the sound system was performing with less than peak clarity on the vocal end, so listeners had to strain to catch all the nuances of Brooke’s inventive lyrics and novel choral stylings. Like new-wave pioneer Lene Lovich, Brooke can really scale the scales, and yet another Eighties-era heroine that comes to mind when listening to her vocal acrobatics is Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons, because like Dale, Brooke can be pleasantly tuneful, squeaky, and bold, all in the same song.Emergenza Fans came alive as Brooke and her band progressed through “Presiding,” “Steel,” “Winter,” and her rueful paean to “Prince Harming.” A new song was then introduced, “Compartmentalized Life,” followed by the crowd-pleasing closer, “Roller Coaster Lover.” Throughout the set, Brooke and her boys gained favorable acclaim from the house, but in light of the fact that the floor still wasn’t full, one could see that Ms. Trout’s endeavor to the affair might prove to be a daunting upstream swim.

Next up was a clutch of So-Cal punk rockers who called themselves Fozzy’s Hero. Led by singer-guitarist Vince Hero, the band broke out with a riff-laden metallic intro that could have been an Iron Maiden tune, and then, with partners Andy A. on guitar, Isaac G. on bass, and “Doctor” Rudy M. on drums, Vince belted into “Two-Faced,” one of many pulse-pumping offerings on Fozzy’s Hero’s platterful of punk. Also included were the singalong “10-4” and an ode to inebriation, “The Drinking Song,” both of which received rousing responses from the numerous fans who had evidently come just to see these particular loud boys from the San Fernando Valley. Many hands were subsequently raised in support of Fozzy’s Hero.

Jeff Clayman followed Fozzy’s Hero, earnestly delivering solidly-crafted pop songs with jazzy accents. Music from Clayman and his band ranged from biting-edge rock to slow-ballad roll, closing with a ska-flavored piece to end what Jeff called an “epic 25-minute set.”

Thomas’ Apartment was next on the bill, an engaging quintet that tempered metallic energy with romantic sensitivity. In the band were Pete Nguyen and Billy Vu Lam on guitar (and Billy on additional keys, as needed), plus keyboardist Thomas Tran, bassist Nam Tran, and drummer Laine Baker; Pete and Thomas shared vocal duties. Effective efforts from the fivesome included “Separate Ways,” “Just for Tonight, and the smooth “Temperature,” the band’s first Emergenzasingle and imminent video. The crowd was visibly impressed.

Mike Burns then emerged, an acoustic-guitar-playing singer with the kind of good looks and familiar, full-of-feeling kind of voice that might remind one of Rob Thomas, maybe, or Adam Exler of EverBlue, or Brad Arnold of 3 Three Doors Down. Mike called his backup band “The Cosmic Sound File,” which consisted of JP Hesser on guitar (and also a wonderful little instrument he said was a “nukelele), Matt Thrift on drums, and Jimbo Russell on bass, plus Joel Lamb on keys. Mike and company played several songs from his 2006 release, “Where the Heart Is,” earning much approval from the house.

Elisa Victoria came front-and-center next, wearing bright orange face-paint like a Carnival mask, reminding one of Ace Frehley, maybe, or Ziggy-era Bowie. Elisa writes her own songs, and her singing, playing, and dancing were sufficiently satisfying to make some people sorry the songstress was permitted time for only three tunes. During her last song, the West Hollywood performer executed a better snake-dance shimmy than Axl Rose, and applause ensued.

Last up was Sacrifice, a Southland rapper who brought a keyboard player, drummer, and guitarist with him to execute a set of songs that had heads nodding in approval at both the musical artistry of his band and the incisive positivity of his lyrics and demeanor.

And in the end came the tallies, to determine who would continue up the Emergenza trail to the subsequent level. Christine announced that the performers Emergenzawith the most votes were: Fozzy’s Hero, Thomas’ Apartment, Mike Burns, and Sacrifice – and to a large extent, these results could be chalked up not only to flat-out popularity, but also to moxie and hustle, to get people to come on out and raise their hands. Still, it could be said that really, everyone who got up on stage at The Joint in the first place was a winner in some way, and all who took part in the show exhibited potential for greater things to come. In any case, preliminary rumor (courtesy of Mike Burns) is that the next round of the Emergenza battle of bands is likely to take place again at The Joint, sometime around late February or early March. All Access Magazine will endeavor to keep you, the local (and not-so-local!) music fan, informed of developments as they occur. By providing an arena for local musicians all over, Emergenza helps to keep the creative fires burning, and that’s a welcome contribution to the scene.

Story by Rob Swick
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