Posted by Stephen Smith on 03/02 at 12:15 PM
This week’s Noontime Concert Series featured the first of several showcases highlighting original acts within the Penn State student body. Hosted by SPA, last Friday’s edition featured five acts of varying genres, from folk to acoustic rock to rap. All of the artists’ sets were mostly comprised of original material.
As usual, the HUB was bustling to accommodate the lunch rush. However, as I walked towards the concert area and found a seat, I noticed a change in the atmosphere. There was definitely a sense of youthful enthusiasm that is typically found at an open mic, but with an edge of professionalism. These students had auditioned to be in the concert, and this created a higher level of performance and crowd expectation. Roughly 30 people were in attendance at the start of the show, increasing to around 60 people by the middle of the concert.
The concert began with the acoustic stylings of Topher (singer/guitarist) and Sour Patch Kid (lead guitar). The duo was decked out in green State Patty’s Day garb to celebrate the upcoming “holiday” weekend. They played four songs, including a cover of “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. Though their version of Mars’ song was unimpressive and contained several lyrical errors, their original songs were very good, both in quality and in style. Topher’s vocals were impressive and produced an acoustic R&B feel that was raw and genuine and gave the band a nice edge. The lyrics were simple, as were the chord structures, but they fit well with their sound. Sour Patch Kid’s riffing in the background added complexity, and Topher kept time by smacking his guitar. With the addition of other band members to vary the sound, they could be a local favorite. I would hope, however, that they stay away from covers, as their style and vocals work well only within the confines of their own material.
The second band to grace the stage was by far the most complex instrumentally. They required a good fifteen minute set-up and sound-check before being ready. The folk foursome incorporated seven instruments into their set, including a banjo, a melodica, and a ukulele. The band looked young, and was appropriately dressed in flannel.
Unfortunately, even with the lengthy sound-check, the ukulele overpowered two guitars and a keyboard, ironically. They had a very treble-oriented sound, with the only bass coming from songs that required the keyboard. Nonetheless, they definitely had a unique sound. You can never go wrong with a banjo, and this was the first time I have ever seen a band use a melodica. Percussion was provided by way of the tambourinist, who also provided backup vocals and played lead guitar at parts, though it was impossible to hear it. His backup vocals were very high and almost piercing, but were an excellent fit over the high treble produced by the instrumentation. The lead singer was weak and had no edge, which he attributed at the beginning of the set to a hangover.
They played three original songs and one cover. “Pearly Gates” was their best song, with two melodica solos and tempo transitions. Their last song was a cover of LMFAO’s “Shots,” which received the largest applause of their set. They prefaced the song with a funny intro, in honor of State Patty’s Day. The crowd was very responsive to the song, obviously, and they left the audience laughing. I think they have potential in the future due to their unique instrumentation, but the vocalist needs to be stronger. Also, incorporating a bass would help to even out the sound.
The third act featured rapper Fred. Now I’m not particularly into rap or hip-hop, but I could definitely appreciate his lyrical skills and his crowd management. He started his set awkwardly, covering the Far East Movement’s “Rocketeer.” Because he chose to roam around amongst the audience and in front of the speakers, feedback could be heard from the music. His pitch was off, and he ended it awkwardly as well, cutting the music off two-thirds of the way through for unknown reasons. However, he followed it up with an original to a mix of the Power Rangers theme. This appealed to the crowd, avoided any singing parts, and displayed his lyrical skills. His last song was entitled “Sugar Baby Bubblegum,” and for this he got three female volunteers to join him on stage so he could sing each verse to them. It had a very catchy chorus with very clever lyrics. I overheard a girl behind me mention that the song could be on the radio, and I have to agree. I don’t know if the beat to his last song was original, but if it was, it was simple, yet effective, featuring only a drum and a keyboard. He couldn’t sing, but he had a good rapper voice and enunciated well. The audience was very responsive to his act, and he had the largest audience of the afternoon.
The fourth act was the acoustic tandem Maura and Chris. Maura handled rhythm duties on the guitar, while Chris played lead. Chris sang lead on two of their three songs, though Maura’s voice was stronger. Chris’s voice was on pitch and had a nice, edgy rasp to it, but Maura’s was simply stronger, overpowering him somewhat during harmonies. Sister Hazel’s “All For You” was sandwiched between original songs. During the breakdown of “All For You,” they got the crowd clapping. Unfortunately, they didn’t start their set until after 1:00, when most students had finished their lunches and left the HUB. “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” written by Chris, was a dark song that lasted around six minutes. Combined with the diminishing audience, their set seemed to peter off. Had Maura been given lead vocal duties, they might have made more of an impression. However, I feel that, among the four other bands, they were simply lost in the fold.
The last act was Eric Faust and Mike D. Mulligan. This pair also had a unique set-up. Eric handled lead vocals, harmonica, and guitar, while Mike provided musical firepower by way of blues piano and accordion. Mulligan looked as humorous as his last name suggests, decked out in his aviator glasses and ushanka. But Mulligan was the musical soul of the act, giving the duo its flair. Mike carried the melody, experimenting wildly on the piano, while also playing bass notes on the lowest register of the piano. Eric’s guitar filled in the midrange, creating a full sound. They played with passion and intensity. I liked Eric’s voice, which combined a heavy blues influence with a tinge of emo vocals. Original compositions “Monkey Tree” and “The Hummingbird” were well written and performed. I really enjoyed this band, and it was a great way to end the show.
Author: Stephen Smith
Bio: Stephen Smith is currently a senior English major at Penn State. In his free time, he enjoys playing Xbox, drumming, playing his guitar, and writing fiction. His favorite genres include alternative rock, emo, indie, metal, and most anything played acoustically. His favorite bands include Say Anything, Counting Crows, City and Colour, and Daphne Loves Derby.
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