S.O.S. Festival Ushers in Dynamic Sound

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

The beginning of the new school year brings excitement and anxiety, and this disposition provides the perfect atmosphere for an event to bring the campus community back together. The S.O.S. Music Festival, put on by WRMC on Sept. 19-20 filled that slot well. Over the course of two nights, the folks at the radio station brought in five bands that stretched across varied musical palettes to ring in the new school year with style.

Night one kicked off with the locally based five-piece band Crazyhearse. The crowd took a while to build up beyond a handful of students, but when it grew, everyone was treated to the highlight of the night. The band immediately slung into gear and stormed through an impressive array of musical sensibilities. Instrumentally, the band consists of a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist and a banjo player, who complemented each other neatly. Providing a high-energy performance, the band started the set with a string of country/folk infused numbers, and then settled into the second half of their set which came to a high point with an 80’s synth-infused cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” a huge hit with the crowd. It was exciting to see a local band own the stage, and seeing them enjoy themselves with such ease transferred palpably into the crowd, who responded with overwhelming positivity to their fantastic set.

Unfortunately, the watermark laid out by Crazyhearse was far from equaled when the second act, the Boston based three-piece rock band Vundabar, took the stage. After an uncomfortable interim where the band seemed unable to convey the levels they wanted for their monitors, it became clear that technical balance was not their biggest issue. With the sound of a mediocre California pop-band-gone-grunge, and with no outstanding forms from either genre, Vundabar sacrificed intricacy and backed away from fleeting moments of musicality, instead playing a string of nearly identical numbers. They relied on sheer volume and shock factor, and could not muster even an ounce of credibility, at one point referring to their venue as “UVM.” It would be comforting if I was able to say the set was forgettable, but unfortunately something that lousy sticks in the brain.

The night finished off with an enjoyable set from Philadelphia-born Hop Along. The band is led by lead singer and guitarist Frances Quinlan, whose presence is both the group’s biggest asset and its most obvious detractor. On many songs, Quinlan began with her voice sitting comfortable in a placidly cool tone that rests on a level with her best indie rock contemporaries before springing into a rasp that harkened back much further to the tendencies of Janis Joplin. While Joplin knew when to hold back and when to set the full content of her monstrous vocal chords outward, Quinlan seems to still be learning the balance of what is most effective when. Nonetheless, Hop Along delivered an accomplished set that blended grit and grace. The band’s lead electric guitarist, Joe Reinhart, executed a handful of impressive solos, and with their last few songs the group hit peak stride and provided an elevated end to the night.

Night two began with Brooklyn based experimental pop band Pavo Pavo, who immediately established a wonderful presence. Their lush melodic approach instantly reminded me of indie band Grizzly Bear, and their dynamic musical experimentation harkened back to the heyday of progressive rock, when Genesis and Pink Floyd were king. The lead vocals hovered effervescently over an instrumental mix of synth and guitar based orchestrations, and their sound quickly revealed the passion that these musicians have for their chosen art. The band is very new, with their debut album set for release later this year, and it’s exciting to imagine where their form will take them. Their sound made me wish for a bit more variation at moments, but with a sound that is so pleasant and well-constructed, it’s a minor mark of criticism on a truly top-notch performance from Pavo Pavo.

Closing off the night and festival was Lucius, another band from Brooklyn, a group whose consummate musicianship and showmanship proved that WRMC truly did save the best for last. Instantly electrifying, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig’s mesmerizingly fierce vocals meant the group owned every inch of McCullough lawn. Flowing deftly from driving rockers to stand out ballads, such as the truly unforgettable “Wildewoman”, Lucius had not a single misstep in the entirety of their time on stage, and their crowd was the most impassioned of the whole festival. The best performers make you ache for more the moment they finish, and the fervent chants for “One more song!” from the crowd brought them back out accompanied by Pavo Pavo to bring an outstanding end to the night. Zack Peters ‘18.5 said, “Lucius seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd more than the previous night’s band, and the synergy of the two lead singers was incredible.” An irrefutable sentiment, and a solid endorsement of a successful festival that leaves me looking forward to next year.