Nick Rocchio-Giordano, MCAS ’18, his bass hanging limp for the moment, leaned into the microphone and declared: “We are Funky Giant.” And it echoed across the Rat, partly due to the state of the audio system, but also because of the sophomore bassist’s insistency.
The sophomore trio Funky Giant went on to provide the promised funk in a set that made up for its lack of vocals with a sound straight of of HBO’s nostalgic, fiery Vinyl. The setting in the basement of Lyons helped. With tapestries framing the stage and center aisle, the Rat proved a more robust venue than the Cabaret Room has usually provided.
At the end of the night, hosted by a programming triumvirate of the Music Guild, CAB, and the Arts Council, it was music scene stalwarts Small Talk and William Bolton, and then earnest newcomer, Funky Giant, which earned the golden ticket to the final showdown at Arts Fest later in the year.
The bluesy Matt Michienzie, MCAS ’17, kicked off the battle. The band has an earthy, full presence with your basic band equipment (plus a little bit of saxophone) that backs Michienzie’s voice. He sang under, over, and through the arrangement in “Skylines,” where the Foxborough native sings about an imagined journey through Chicago to Memphis and, of course, New York.
His best work was seen in “Drunk.” Alone on the stage for most of the song, he used a stomping guitar riff and his deep, breathy voice to bend and hold notes in a rambling fashion that epitomizes what it’s like to be drunk and a bit sad.
Backed by a drummer and a set of samples cycling from his laptop, Bolton fit a five-song set in just over his allotted time. “Bad Girl,” “Summer Breeze,” “Fading,” “Bud Light,” and “Let’s Stay Together” are all infectious, tightly wound pieces of pop music. Bolton is a precocious master of crowd engagement, and his set got the crowd on its feet moving and grooving along with the Detroit native. It was the best he has ever sounded live. “Let’s Stay Together” remains an irresistible bundle of earnest soul and pop.
While a veteran of now four Battle of the Bands, Small Talk holds the distinction of battling with a different lineup each year. With the addition of Kaitlyn and Meghan Kelleher, CSOM ’18 and LSOE ’16, the band employs a dramatically different sound than it did two years ago with more traditionally indie songs like “A Different Gravity.”
The band has moved in a more textured, psychedelic direction, and with the absorption of the Kellehers, the band’s vocals are now as textured as its arrangements, as Sean Seaver’s, MCAS ’16, voice mixes with the Kellehers’.
Small Talk treated the audience to two new songs. It kicked off the set with “Eclipse” and finished with “Aquarium.” “Eclipse” is as peppy as Small Talk gets these days. If most songs are a lap around the track, then “Aquarium” is a marathon, a slow burn of Chris Southiere, Berklee ’16, on the drums and Seaver and the Kellehers’ vocals filling the proverbial aquarium of sound.
Last year’s Singer-Songwriter Competition champion Wynnm Murphy, MCAS ’18, teamed up with Ryan Bradley, MCAS ’18, to form Sixtowns. Murphy, who in the past used an acoustic guitar and a kick drum, has moved in a more electronic direction. With Bradley on keys and Murphy on guitar and wielding a looper, Sixtown has an airy sound that leaves more than enough room for Murphy’s vocals to breeze in and out.
The band closed with “Take Me There,” and despite a stumble that may have ultimately hurt the band’s rep with the judges and forced the band to restart the song about a minute in, “Take Me There” remains four minutes of accomplished indie-pop. It has a transporting quality, much like Murphy’s earlier acoustic work, but the electronic shift adds a distance that makes Murphy’s voice even more compelling.
Funky Giant, the trio of Rocchio-Giordano, Mario Borges, MCAS ’18, and Henry Ricciardi, CSOM ’18, were the last to take the stage, but they threw the gauntlet down. They’re mad technicians of funk. Funk needs no words. Funk needs no (verbal) rhyme. Words, apparently, just get in the way.
The band blasted through two long jams, but it was Ricciardi’s solo in the second section that might have secured the young group a spot in the finals. The band had reached a groove by then, the crowd nodding and stomping along like they were in some NYC club. It felt like the band, to finish the set, needed to launch into something resembling a bridge. And it became clear that it wasn’t going to a chorus of any sort. Rocchio-Giordana and Borges, on the bass and drums, settled their pace and turned to Ricciardi. And boy, did he lean in, climbing up and down the neck like a warlock of funk.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor