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Battle of the Bands '20: Night 1

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Greeley-based bands emerge to rock the night away at the Moxi.

Above is a video I shot and edited for the first night of round one in Bandwagon's 2020 Battle of the Bands, which aired on UNCo's Bear News 98.

First, before I do anything else, I just want to send a major shoutout to Ely and Kevin from Bandwagon Magazine! It was honestly super cool to meet these guys with Bandwagon, a magazine that I've been steady keeping up with since I moved out to CO. They were totally cool with letting me film for Bear News 98 and Baggage Claim, and they invited me back anytime -- which is SUPER cool and DEFINITELY going to be kept in mind. They were also totally supportive and helpful while I was filming and taking photos. So, yeah, huge shoutout to them for making this first night super easy for lil ole me.

Moving on, I have to express how excited I became to actually start reporting on this. Even at the actual event last week, I was brainstorming different ways I could go about this "epic saga," if you will. For Bear News 98 and The Mirror, things have to be subjective and professional. For Baggage Claim, you ask? Oh, that's a different story. This is new territory in terms of my music journalism experience.

Not only do I aim to immerse you in the live performance for each of these featured bands, but I also want to start a discussion. What did I think about the show, and who did I like? But it doesn't stop there. Nay, it is only the beginning. I want to hear from you guys, too! If you were there, tell me what you thought about the performances and the outcome. Who are you rooting for? What is your line-up looking like for the final show in March? Who knows, you might even get a shoutout out of it!

Also, I got some sick photos out of the night, so feel free to check out the gallery at the bottom of the page. This event is a great opportunity for me to practice with capturing and editing concert photos, and I can't wait to see what the future holds in terms of progress.

Enough small talk. Let's get to cookin', baby.

Matt Murray, guitarist for the Able Dogs, singing in the spotlight during their set Thursday night.

Before the show, I decided to refresh my mind and form a working opinion on the featured bands of the night. Just by listening to what I could, I was a little .... confused on how to feel.

The bands set for the night were The Able Dogs, Nelsen, Ethan More or Less and Hot Tub Wrestler. Just listening to each band's top song, you can see how obviously different each performance would be, especially live. The line-up was extremely diverse -- and looking into the bands for future shows, it seems like each night will have the same nearly unpredictable, impetuous air about the performances. But I'll get more into that later in this article.

Frankly, I was intrigued to witness how the audience and overall atmosphere of the Moxi Theater would change with each group's performance. From the Able Dogs and their low rock undertones to Hot Tub Wrestler and their borderline chaotic instrumental energy, I wondered how the order of the line-up might effect the delivery of each band. Beyond that, Nelsen was the only band that I had seen live at that point -- and that's not including the new members and instruments that they've added in recent months. So, I was really interested to witness these bands beyond their online, recorded media.

I showed up early to the event in order to prepare my equipment (and organize all of my thoughts). The crowd was just beginning to pile into the venue. I could see band members also mentally preparing for the night ahead. Everyone made a pitstop to the bar for a beer before migrating into the theater itself.

In mingling with attendants and various band members, I found out that Hot Tub Wrestler had dropped out of the performance merely hours before the show. This was a little disappointing for me, honestly. I believed that Hot Tub Wrestler, out of all the other bands performing, was the outlying, heavier band on the line-up. They were the band that diversified the line-up that night, and it would have been interesting to see what they sounded like live. Hot Tub Wrestler was the one set that I felt was bound to instigate the mosh -- which now seems to be a staple for any CO show at this point.

Regardless, the night started off without a hitch as bands started putting their musicality to the test for eternal glory on the cover of Bandwagon Magazine.

The Able Dogs

Guitarist/vocalist Pat Tabrum serenading the crowd, featuring guitarist Matt Murray and drummer Michael James as accompaniment.

The first on docket for the night was The Able Dogs (@theabledogsband), a Greeley-based band of guys that met on UNC campus. And they say college isn't worth it.....

All terrible college jokes aside, I think this set was a solid start to introduce the tone of the night. Featuring vocals from students Pat Tabrum and Matt Murray, the set rested on their power to multi-task between shredding and singing -- which they both did a phenomenal job (because I know damn well I couldn't do it). Plus, with a strong, steady beat from the drums and bass, the group was able to toy with the atmosphere of the crowd.

I've listened to this band a few times before seeing their set, and the difference between their recordings and their actual performance was completely unexpected. Listening to their first and only album released, Twisted Kiss, I got a more hushed, low-key sound with slight rock undertones. It reminded me of the rocking Parquet Courts mixed with the subtlety of mid-90's Archers of Loaf -- both bands that I mentally categorize as grainy, aloof alternative that tend to highlight the occasional disorganized collage of notes within their songs. (On my Spotify, this type of music lands in the "gentle" playlist, which is dedicated to songs that make me want to scream in indie, "You've probably never heard this band before!") The Able Dogs is a band that I occasionally find myself listening to on long car rides through the mountains or while begrudgingly doing homework.

Their performance, however, was not what I expected from their recordings. Maybe it was my proximity to the speakers or the venue itself, but the muted nuance of Twisted Kiss was practically nonexistent onstage. The band performed loud and proud, with sweet guitar licks syncopated drums that I never noticed in their recordings before. Yet, they still kept the slow stoner-rock tempo (yes, that's a real sub-genre and it's VALID in this context), complete with sweet, monotonous vocals from both Tabrum and Murray.

Moving on to the performance itself, I think one thing the band missed was that infectious chemistry. I'm sure that audience participation and cracking jokes isn't on the top of one's list when performing a high-stakes show like this. Yet, when it comes to small-ish scale events like this -- where people mainly come to socialize and dip their toes in the local musical competition -- bands really have to fight for the attention of the audience. This is something that can be honed with the experience of playing different shows and different venues, so I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I could tell that they were channelling a lot of their energy into musicality and sound, which showed in their performance.

Beyond that, The Able Dogs did a fantastic job in prepping the audience for what was yet to come that night. Their original songs are well-written and lyrically meaningful, and they sounded strong and unified throughout their set. It was evident throughout their performance that they truly have a lot of potential within the band's music and its members. It was impressive to witness the band's sound morph through live performance, and I'm intrigued to see how it evolves over time.

If you want to see The Able Dogs perform again, they'll be making a second appearance with Violet Visionaries, Poinc and Junebug on February 21 at the Rotha Casa. The Violet Visionaries page actually sent me the advert on the right, so DM them on Instagram for the address (@violet.visionaries) -- and tell 'em Gavin sent ya.

The Able Dogs will also be at the Moxi Theater opening for One Flew West on March 20! You can buy tickets here.


Singer Nick Nelsen leading his bandmates through the set, featuring Ori Bitton on bass and newest member Jake Marchus on keys/organ.

Next up was Colorado/Nebraska-based band Nelsen, named so kindly after lead singer (and longest member) Nick Nelsen. During their set-up, I noticed a major influx of attendees in the crowd, some of them even wearing freshly-purchased Nelsen t-shirts. So, needless to say, I started forming an idea as to who might be advancing that night. Can you take a guess already?

In Nelsen's introduction, Kevin from Bandwagon Mag noted that they've been called a mix between Soundgarden, the Eagles and film scores -- which, to me, is such a preposterous combination, yet so accurate to describe this band at the same time. They have a low, ballad-y rock emphasis to their music, highlighted by amazingly-executed solo licks from electric guitarist Elliott Turner. At the same time, their songwriting comes with a somber lyrical tone from Nick Nelsen, which seems reminiscent of Soundgarden's late Chris Cornell. Together, those notes create an aura about their set with a head-bobbing, swaying beat that stay both constant and elusive at times.

I've listened to Nelsen before, even seeing them live a few times back in the day. Those times, however, the band had different (and less) members. So, I was surprised to see five people onstage for their Battle of the Bands performance. I also knew that, with these new folks, their sound was bound to be different -- and boy, I have never been more right. Now the boys have what seems like a complete band, and their sound has definitely evolved with enhanced musical chemistry in this change. Seeing them in the past, I witnessed their drastic transition from their old guitarist to Turner. After officially adding Turner to the band, their potential seemed to skyrocket. Turner is an absolute wizard at shredding his stuff -- with just GORGEOUS guitars, I might add. (So shiny.) Turner is able to add some pizzazz and spine-tingling flair to the otherwise mysterious ambiance the band creates.

Looping this back to the night of the show, Turner really impressed me with his skill at both standing out and meshing so seamlessly with the other members. Also with new member Marchus on keys/organ, the band gained what can be described as jazzy and serious undertones in their sound. With Mike Rhian keeping a tasty rhythm on the drums and Ori Britton accompanying him on the bass, the band really utilized the potential of every musician and their instrument. Their show was nothing short of the dictionary definition of epic in its proportions.

And their music was received really well. The audience was present and enjoying the sound, swaying in unison to Nelsen's rockin' serenade. If you want to see Nelsen play again, they'll be at Herman's Hideaway in Denver on February 15 (+21 only).

Ethan More or Less

Lead singer Ethan Morales toning down the energy with a slow acoustic song.

The final band to perform that night was trio Ethan More or Less.

Lead singer Ethan Morales started off in the music scene on his own, but now his repertoire grows with the addition of bassist Jarek Makarchuk and (now double-time) drummer Mike Rhian. Meeting through the music scene both in Greeley and on campus, these three found themselves to be roommates through the years -- eventually leading to a re-adaptation of Ethan's solo projects.

Now, the band is slowly but surely growing with their music as the emerge into the NoCo scene. Before the show, I couldn't find much music on any streaming services from the trio, so I hardly knew what to expect from their show. Yet, I was thoroughly surprised from their sound, which surprised me even more considering this was my first time seeing them live, too.

Rhian is able to completely change his drumming style, matching the funky, syncopated beats and interesting ticks within the music. Jarek adds a chill bass that only strengthens the foundation for Morales to do his thing on on guitar/vocals. (Trust me, Jarek, I know the funky last name struggle -- but I'm still not gonna try it.) Together, this trio really came out of the blue and gave the other bands a run for their money. Their set was borderline fun, and the audience was responding to that energy.

Personally, this was my favorite performance of the night. (I may be a little biased, especially after they covered Cake's Never There hit -- complete with trumpet vocals from Morales himself.) Talk about innovation! Beyond that, their sound was an unexpected funky tune that I couldn't help but dance around to while I was recording. A conga line even formed in the audience at one point, which seemed pretty indicative of how the audience was absorbing their sound.

I don't know if Ethan More or Less has any events coming up, but follow them on Instagram (@ethan_moreorless) to stay up to date on the band's agenda. I'm definitely intrigued with the band after seeing them that night, so I look forward to hearing more from them!

And the winner of the night was undoubtedly Nelsen -- the rock quintet will be advancing to round 2 next month. Although my favorite performance came from Ethan More or Less that night, Nelsen did a fantastic job of truly enthralling the audience, and now it has finally come to pay off. Congrats to the guys in Nelsen, as well as the Able Dogs and Ethan More or Less for putting up what was nothing short of a fiery competition that night.

Moving on, the first night of round one really exceeded my expectations, in all honesty. During the actual performances, the diversity of the line-up was more welcomed than I had anticipated before the show. Even without the outlier Hot Tub Wrestler, the bands presented different strengths within their own sub-genres of music, which made for an interesting night of all-around good local music.

One thing that always tends to surprise me is how legit these bands sound, especially during live performances -- and that's not meant to be demeaning in any way. I feel like when many people think of the blanket term of "local music," assumptions generally lead to weird, sweaty house shows in the parent's basement while they're out of town for the weekend. The music is expected to be some hodgepodge of discordant sounds and broken lyrics. But these people really put work into their craft, and this Battle of the Bands competition really highlights not only their hard work beforehand but also their determination during performance.

Below will be another little collage of the best photos I got from that night. Let me know what you guys think! (But be gentle, I'm still new.)

It has been a riveting competition so far -- which makes me beyond excited for Night 2 on February 13th at Hodi's Half Note in Fort Collins! The line-up is: Graham Good & the Painters, Space Force, Glass Cases and People in General. The show starts at 7:30. Don't forget to buy your tickets online here, and I'll see you there!

Did you go to night 1 at the Moxi? Who was your favorite? What do you think the Round 2 line-up will look like alongside Nelsen? Let me know below!

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