As a 12-year-old in a rock band with high hopes for my own career in the Launchpad competition, I was excited to check out the statewide finals on Saturday, June 20, at the Wisconsin Union Theater. I'm not yet eligible for Launchpad (you have to be in high school), but as I sat through the 12 finalists I definitely got an idea of what to do and what not to do. Most of the bands were good, though few were great.
Launchpad is a program for Wisconsin high school bands from any genre and any place. The 12 bands that played on Saturday had survived the regional competitions and will all get to play one gig at Summerfest. The winning band will also receive 12 hours of recording time at the legendary Smart Studios and an additional gig at Summerfest.
I stepped into the half-empty Wisconsin Union Theater about halfway through the five-hour show. Onstage, Scotty and the Snow Machines were midway through an intense song with a mature layered sound that many adult bands (Coldplay, I'm talking to you) strive for. They were the one band I saw that actually had a look. They were just a little bit on the Jonas Brothers side with the tight jeans and vests, but their original songs and charisma more than made up for it.
Next were Village Idiot. Clad in khaki shorts and T-shirts, they didn't look like anything special. But after about three bars of their first song I knew they were special. The singer had a sort of growl in his voice reminiscent of Kurt Cobain. That was an interesting match for their songs, some of which had a bright sound reminiscent of "Cliffs of Dover."
Fforte Adore were a step down from Village Idiot. Although they did take second place (I would have given it to Village Idiot), their mild jazz-influenced grooves didn't hold my attention, and the saxophone was repetitive after awhile. Still, there was something alluring about Fforte Adore-possibly their earnestness.
The FlowBanditz & The Organix were a breath of fresh air. With the two quick-talking MCs riffing off each other and a great band to back them up, it was like nothing else I saw.
I liked the harmonies and musicianship of The Scallions; not so much their predictable lyrics and rock-star posing. But they sure knew how to whip up the crowd.
The Stumes' funk-oriented jams lacked shape and contrast, but they are without a doubt skilled musicians.
Arts & Crafts are a band that know what they're doing. And they proved it by winning Launchpad, with intense vocals and a wild guitar attack that felt like Led Zeppelin minus the falsetto. My only reservation was the excessive soloing, although it is hard to criticize a band for having a great lead guitarist and wanting to show it.
As the shaggy-haired rhythm guitarist said, "We totally support headbanging." After Arts & Craft's set, so did I.