By Harrison Jones
While in no way a competition,
2005 and 2006 UVa Battle of the Bands winners shared the stage last
Friday at Starr Hill, and the results were epic. Humor me while I diagnose
a fictitious skirmish between the two, and hopefully, when all is said
and done, a champion of the UVa music scene will be crowned.
The opening act, You Guys Are Girls,
hailed from Richmond, Virginia, and consists of the electric and acoustic
sister front of Megan and Erin Scolaro. What began as an acoustic pop
project evolved into an alternative rock band with the addition of a
bass and drum male rhythm section in 2005. Claiming to be influenced
by 90’s pop icons such as Weezer and U2 or 80’s legends like Bowie
and Costello, their sound comes off more like folk rock in the vein
of Melissa Etheridge, the Cranberries or Rilo Kiley. Certainly worth
a listen, You Guys Are Girls is a band to bookmark. Especially when
their main website reads: “Don’t be afraid of pop. It feels so good.”
Next to the stage was 2005 winner,
Sparky’s Flaw. Coming off of relative EP release success last year,
this high-school band turned college has made a local name for themselves.
It was easy to see that the crowd came out for these gentlemen, as the
sold out show reached its maximum capacity during their set. The band
even had to ask its fans (high school and college students alike) to
stick around after their set, which awards them points for courtesy.
It is safe to say that the sound
of Sparky’s Flaw has evolved in the last two years of state touring.
Always typically characterized as “radio-friendly, acoustic-driven
pop rock,” the band admits to dealing with multiple genres, including
indie, emo, jam-band, and straight up alt-rock. Their wide variety
of instrumentation (everything from tubas to saxaphones to synthesizers)
is the reason for this unapologetic refusal of classification. Guitar
work akin to Rob Thomas, sax solos reminiscent of OAR and piano dance
ballads in the style of The Rocket Summer’s emo poster boy Bryce Avery
all categorize Sparky’s Flaw as a band pleasing to the ear and fun
to see live.
UVa student and lead singer Will
Anderson absolutely leads the band. His strong vocals (supplemented
by BGV harmonies) are the group’s trademark, and his lyrics seem to
orient the band’s music in one definitive direction. If there
is anything decidedly traditional about Sparky’s Flaw, it is this:
Their songs are all about girls, feelings, teenage vitality and the
ever burdening question of “how do I win her heart?” The real question
is: is it their flaw, or their saving graces? Either way, if this is
your lyrical content area of choice, then there is not much to consider
blemished within Sparky’s Flaw.
Finally, the headlining act, Sons
of Bill, UVa religious studies professor Bill Wilson’s own progeny,
took the stage. From the first twangs of the Fender, the audience could
tell that the music was about to reach a new stratosphere of professionalism.
These three brothers, with the addition of drum and bass acquaintances,
have returned from their diverse worldly pursuits, such as cattle farming,
grad school, and the NYC bar music scene, to re-knit the family band.
The influences on the music, then, are about as diverse as you could
possibly hope. (Drummer Todd Wellons even comes from UVa’s own jazz
Yet these Aristotles of country
rock know what they want to play. They don’t mess around with genre-forging
or independent music pioneering. It’s simple. They steer clear of
the temptation to be this or that, but simply put, are down home boys
who dig Hank Williams, have a little too much to drink, then write the
songs that feel good and mean something.
And their formula seems to be working.
Winning Battle of the Bands in 2006 and selling more than one thousand
records in six months are indications that the sky is the limit for
Sons of Bill. But pretentiousness can not be found in their live show
in any fashion, as was evidenced by the spontaneous swing dancing in
the crowd and comments from leader singer, James Wilson,– “This is
country music. C’mon! Yell at me!”
Never failing to charm throughout
the entire set, Sons of Bill played one hell of a country show. The
piano, guitar and bass work floored the audience time and time again,
and Wellons’ train-track drumming could not have been more tasteful
and on target. The brothers sang angelic harmonies that could put many
of their contemporaries to shame, but never failed to rock, and rock
hard. Even indie scenesters and frat boys would have a hard time disagreeing
about how good this music was.
Lyrically, any earnest listener
could tell that these men had important things to say. While based in
the arena of half drunk and heart broken lonesomeness, their songs address
issues way beyond the typical country experience. One could find questions
of long lost souls in search of truth, metaphors of existence and alcohol,
and analyses of common-day social stereotypes in every song.
But still, the show felt at times
like a Ford Truck commercial and a Jimmy Buffet party combined. These
good ole’ boys sang Friday night into Saturday, and then some. This
was the type of concert where everyone, by the end of the show, knew
they were in the presence of great artwork. Those sitting in the back
could not refuse to stand, and in the front, it was hard to; perhaps
it was the beer.
Either way, the show was a smash
hit. If this was a rumble for the true king of UVa’s hometown heroes,
then it is difficult to decide where to place the crown. Judging from
aesthetics, it seems that Sons of Bill would have squeaked through with
a victory. But by popularity’s standards, it could have been Sparky’s
Flaw. This alone is reason to come out to both band’s future shows;
to help decide who really walks Charlottesville’s music streets as
the kings of UVa.