Thursday night the queue for the bar wrapped around the corner. Bouncers checked IDs as the strumming of a guitar and bursts of neon and disco ball light crept through the cracks in the door. It was another Thursday night in a college town, but just a little different.
MUSIC Matters, (MUSIC doubling as an acronym for Michigan Undergrads Serving In the Community) is a campus organization in constant pursuit of community spirit, loud music, and philanthropy. The massive student organization showcases Ann Arbor’s talent and uplifts its community through musical events supporting nonprofit student organizations, scholarship funds, and youth leadership events. On Thursday, they held a “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser at Ann Arbor institution The Blind Pig. The event provided the students with a well-deserved break from a typical Thursday night: an evening filled with excitement, a sense of purpose and incredible music (rather than the somewhat listenable assortment of the usual parties ).
The lineup included five locally founded indie bands: Big Chemical, Luna Pier, Electric Chic, Anytime and Gravytrain. They all perform and collaborate on the tight-knit local music scene at parties, co-op events and concerts at venues like The Blind Pig. But tonight was an opportunity for a change: a big break from the student body and, with the backing of spectator votes, a cash prize for first and second place.
Luna Pier took to the stage in a Jamaican bobsled jersey and the drummer in a bloodstained shirt (of course). They captivated the audience with a killer confidence that almost made you forget the musicians were University of Michigan and Wayne State students with marks on their hands to show they were “under 21.” Their quirky style and songs had overtones of 1970s garage rock, indie surf rock, 2010s shouto, and even honky-tonk country.
The entire crowd quickly picked up the band’s vibes and covered some original lyrics along the way. Every member of the band, including mighty bassist Joey Shuster, vocalist Marcus Hoh, guitarist Dexter Kaufmann and bloodstained drummer Alex Calderwood, owned the stage. Calderwood showed an insanely incredible vocal range and excellent rockstar-style screams. As they belted out the original song “Jewish Cowboy” and Kaufmann’s harmonica accompanied the lyrics “I don’t need pork and beans,” the band won us all over with their charm.
Electric Chic took center stage as a storm of fans (or a group of friends who had finally finished their pre-bar night) entered the bar. Either way, the crowd was instantly “electrified” by the band. Pianist Fern San Agustin opened with a haunting solo before lead singer and college student Juliet Freedman began a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that nearly rivaled the original.
The band covered many cult classics as the whole club sang and danced with electric energy. Guitarist, vocalist and college student Tyler Nicole Thenstedt sang an acoustic cover of Cage The Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, and Freedman gave us a nice cover of Clairo’s “Sofia”. Student bassist and vocalist Inés Hidalgo and drummer Christie Gillies added new layers to classic pop songs, including a stunning cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” Electric Chic is truly pop music at its finest.
The crowd continued to swell as indie-pop-folk band Big Chemical took the stage. The group included guitarist Alec Bertoy, drummer Ben Wood, bassist Inés Hidalgo and guitarist Ian Eylanbekov, all singers and students of the School of Music, Theater and Dance. The musicians’ incredible songwriting was similar to early 2000s indie music, with heavy instrumentals reminiscent of classic rock. Everyone clapped and tried (but failed) to sing the band’s original and unreleased songs. They were so catchy.
The original song “Tomato” had the whole club dancing, and “Open Letter” (wherever you stream) had everyone in the audience open their phones to download the likely future hit. By the end of the performance, the audience felt like they had discovered the next big thing.
Anytime told us they had 25 minutes to get us to like them, and they did. Featuring beautiful instrumentals from guitarist Nick Cook, bassist Sam Dickman, pianist Julien Malherbe and drummer John Marinan, vocal powerhouse Karen Jane Ludwig stunned audiences with original songs.
When the group of college juniors started their cover line, the audience fell more in love. Lake Street Drive’s “Good Kisser” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” had the whole club up and screaming at their exes. As the band closed their set with Harry Styles’ “Kiwi,” the audience all but lost their voices.
Gravytrain, a student-founded jazz ensemble, brought the vibe of a late-night jazz club to The Blind Pig. French horns blared, guitars strummed and drums kept a fun beat as the club lit up with an energy that can only be described as “groovy”.
The whole club danced and clapped to the moving sound of the band. The band improvised and harmonized to create beautiful jazzy melodies that never got boring. Bassist Ben Wood’s voice shone over the melodious horns of trumpeter Ryan Venora, trombonist Eli Heinen and saxophonist Connor Hoyt and the beats of drummer Stephen Oduro and guitarist Ian Eylanbekov. As Wood repeated “give me that funky stuff,” on the beat, the band certainly listened to his pleas.
After the chaos and indecision of the Google Forms voting process, everyone emerged victorious in the Battle of the Bands. Electric Chic took first place and Anytime took second place. Three other bands left with successful performances under their belt and many new fans. Spectators left with contagious energy and songs in their heads. But as attendees returned home and back to campus, a wave of dread hit them as they realized that every Thursday night couldn’t be so much fun.
Daily arts writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.