Hundreds of University of Michigan students and Ann Arbor community members took to the Blind Pig’s sold-out dance floor Friday night to laugh and cry, sway and mosh, bob and headbang, clap and create harmonies under a disco ball as Ann Arbor’s best bands performed for Battle of The Bands. MUSIC Matters — a student organization dedicated to showing that while igniting social change through local philanthropic endeavors — holds the Battle of The Bands every year, allowing students to vote on their favorite local band. The top act wins a cash prize, and all the acts — Cherry TV, Hemmingway Lane, VUP, Tea & Sympathy and Joe and the Ruckus — increase their rapidly growing popularity and student fanbase.
The night started with a steady roar at 8 p.m. People huddled in from the cold, grabbing drinks from the downstairs bar and sprinting up to the center of the dancefloor for Ann Arbor indie rock/funk/pop band Cherry TV. Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Erek Mirque and LSA fifth year Trevor Soranno’s steady guitar riffs quickly melded with the soulful voice of Kiran Mangrulkar, Music, Theatre & Dance and Kinesiology senior, and smooth song of LSA/SMTD Senior Anna Agrawal, LSA and Music, Theatre & Dance senior, to create a near-symphonic quality to the band. Agrawal belted out a reinvented rendition of Billie Eilish’s ballad “wish you were gay”; Music, Theatre & Dance junior Aidyn Connor brought a new instrumental bassline and bluesy solo; and Music, Theatre & Dance junior Annie Hayes held a danceable rhythm on the drums. In the final moments of the set, the whole crowd joined in as the band danced to Mangrulkar’s rendition of dance anthem “Everybody Talks.” The band and the audience had the time of their lives; everybody was ready for the night.
The crowd hummed with restlessness awaiting the next set. Small talk and whispers floated over a soft house-y playlist.
Local indie rock band Hemmingway Lane played only original songs, but by the way the crowd reveled in their sound, you would never know they weren’t playing top hits. The band had the perfect garage-rock/surf-rock sound, with none of the cheesiness and all of the great noise and great hair. Gunther Gottschalk and Logan Floyd created catchy riffs, bringing an electric melody to the bass/guitar-heavy sound. Drummer Noah Jankowski “made as much noise as possible” for the band’s top single, “Teenage Fever Dream,” with a danceable yet moody beat. As LSA junior Oliver Satola “tickled the ivories” with a subtle melody and rocking solo, vocalist Elija Flood’s soft yet gritty voice rang out. In the final notes of the set, the audience, exhausted from thrashing their heads to the music, took out their phones to download the setlist.
Concertgoers crowded the stage before the next band came out, buzzing with slight drunkenness and the energy that only comes with a disco ball and hundreds of antsy beanie- and piercing-clad students with ‘M’s on their hands (for under 21).
VUP brought a new, jazzy feel to the venue, as hundreds of people swayed to the rhythm of their original sound. LSA sophomore Ariana Kertsman’s sweet and powerful voice sang out, scatting and singing “you put a spell on me” with the band’s jazzy, instrumental sound. Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Adam Hayes’s trumpet roared as Music, Theatre & Dance sophomores Darren Lee and Oh Cook kept an energetic sound on the saxophone. Every instrument made gorgeous noise while never competing for the spotlight, and the entire band quietly sang along, dancing around the stage and feeding off of each other’s energy. The band’s cohesive sound was completed by the rhythms of Annie Hayes’s steady and powerful drumbeat, guitar and bass harmonies from Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Jackson Manfredi and Connor and a dancy rhythmic solo from Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore pianist Rowan Tucker-Meyer. The set reminded me instantly of “La La Land,” as jazz-snob protagonist Sebastian says “Jazz is conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s new every time. It’s brand new every night. It’s very, very exciting. And it’s dying.” But the last part is false; it’s alive.
VUP put the audience in a jazzy trance as they hummed all the way into the next set.
Next up was Tea & Sympathy, an indie rock band with pop and punk influences and a total funk feel. The crowd was hooked from the start as Music, Theatre & Dance senior Molly Schwall stunned with a powerful vocal range. Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore bassist Andres Soto took over with a punk-tinged rendition of “Después de La Playa,” and incredible melodies rang from Engineering senior saxophonist Raj Koorapaty, Music, Theatre & Dance junior trombonist Thomas Hodgman and Music, Theatre & Dance junior trumpeter Eric Bressler, whose solos made the band shine. Music, Theatre & Dance sophomores Casey Cheatham and Corazon Szell created the perfect punky-funky-rock sound on drums and guitar, respectively, and Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Liam Charron had the perfect synth-y piano sound to round out the performance. The band picked up energy for their final two songs, with the whole club dancing to “Rolling on a River” and belting along to Schwall’s rendition of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” By the end of the set, as the band held the audience’s hearts, Schwall had a crowd member’s bra in hand.
As the crowd prepared for wherever the night took them next, feeding off of the energy of the live music, the venue slowed down for a bit. That all changed when Joe and the Ruckus took the stage.
The band came out booming with a brassy, funk-filled noise from Music, Theatre & Dance seniors trumpeter Ryan Venora and saxophonist Sam Uribe. Vocalist (and trombonist) Joe Thomas’s powerful yet smooth voice kept the audience in a dancing trance as the band changed moods from smooth and jazzy to funky rock. Music, Theatre & Dance senior Stephen Oduro kept a powerful beat and Music, Theatre & Dance junior Jack Nissen held a funky bassline through each song, with Music, Theatre & Dance senior Mercer Patterson playing perfect piano melodies. The band had the audience wishing the night would never end, asking them “who has the best moves out there” and dancing to an energized recreation of “I Wish.” Guitarist and alum Alec Greene held catchy guitar riffs through every song, adding a special layer to “Foxy Lady” with a powerful solo and Uribe’s rasping voice. As the gig came to a close around 11 p.m., the audience seemed to beg for an encore.
As the music died down, the crowd took out their phones, now filled with concert clips, to vote for the number one band. Tea & Sympathy took the vote, holding not only the audience’s hearts and undergarments, but their praise as well. Yet as Cherry TV, Hemmingway Lane, VUP, Tea & Sympathy, Joe and the Ruckus and all of their fans, new and old, walked out of The Blind Pig, it felt like a victorious night was just beginning.
Senior Arts Editor Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.