Matt Allen (left) and Eric Andraska of The Selfish Gene.
Sleek, solemn rock trio The Selfish Gene prevailed last night at the Frequency in the final round of Isthmus Band to Band Combat, the local-music contest staged by your favorite Madison alternative newsweekly. The runner-up was The Midwest Beat, the quartet whose brisk pop songs are drenched in Mersey Sound jangle. The winner was chosen by club patrons, who cast votes.
The Midwest Beat played first, with a whole lot of energy. Singer and guitarist Matt Joyce smiled as he belted hook-laden tunes like "Girl Gone West" and the surf-rock-inflected "Pretty Lady." The set's highlights included covers like an urgent take on the Rolling Stones' "Dear Doctor" and a leisurely version of the Neil Young obscurity "Wonderin'," from the 1983 rockabilly experiment Neil & the Shocking Pinks.
The Midwest Beat takes a relaxed approach to stagecraft, and the peformance was appealingly ramshackle. The tunes were punchy and short, and their brevity probably is why Joyce at one point asked, with arch alarm, "We gotta play for like an hour?"
If The Midwest Beat's set was loose, The Selfish Gene performed with taut determination. There was precision and even some tuneful art-rock darkness in songs like "Fist Fed Up" and "Autopilot." Front man Matt Allen and bassist Eric Andraska frequently sang in close harmony, and from time to time Andraska executed rock-star kicks and head shakes. A synthesizer in the middle of the stage was employed for textural bloops and warbles. The Frequency crowd erupted in cheers when master of ceremonies (and Isthmus director of digital media) Jason Joyce declared the Selfish Gene the winner, and the band played a triumphant encore.
The event concluded Isthmus Band to Band Combat 2009, which began last month with online balloting. Over a two-week period, more than 1,400 music fans voted on recorded tracks submitted by 38 local acts.
During The Selfish Gene's set, Andraska thanked the Frequency audience for supporting local music. I say to that: Rock on.