The final four

The Wandas hit the ground running at the ’BRU Rock Hunt
By CHRIS CONTI  |  April 14, 2010

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SUNNY POP The Wandas. PHOTOS: RICHARD MCCAFFREY.

From Yiddish speed-rhymes to Latin funk, the 2010 Rock Hunt finals once again delivered a musically diverse and thoroughly-entertaining show at Lupo’s last Saturday. There was a 50 percent chance a “Boston-based” band would grab the crown, with two Beantown acts (and 2010 SXSW performers) in Keep Me Conscious and the Wandas bookending a well-executed early-bird romp. In the end, four of the six judges were sold on the sunny, unabashedly pop harmonies of the Wandas.

For the record, the Wandas’ drummer William Bierce resides in Middletown and co-founder/guitarist Brent Battey grew up in West Warwick (all Rock Hunt participants must have a Rhody affiliation). And there will likely be grumblings, with the Wandas’ victory following Fairhaven’s surprise win in ’09 — that’s two straight years of melodic pop calibrated for cooing groupies. But it’s the six judges who ultimately hand out the prize, and WBRU program director Wendell Clough wasn’t all that shocked with the outcome.

“Honestly, I went in to the final round feeling like the Wandas had a great shot,” Clough told me following the throwdown. “The Wandas look and act like pros, but so did every other band at this year’s final four.”

More than 500 heads came out, with plenty of support for local acts You Scream I Scream and Santa Mamba, as well as Keep Me Conscious, who took the stage shortly after 6 pm with two-dozen KMC fans lining the stage barrier. The blinding sunlight from security coming and going through the side door didn’t benefit the arena-packaged setup of the screamo kids, who tore through their 35-minute set, bolstered mostly by Bob Bowser’s howling vocal range. Ironically, the dude working the soundboard spun Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot prior to the set, and the synchronized guitar moves (see the Scorpions, Judas Priest) was surely odd, but these guys pulled the veteran move of the night, creating their own encore. “This is our last song,” Bowser announced about 25 minutes into the set, having yet to play their ’BRU-supported single, “Thicker Than Blood.” After playing a different number, Bowser said, “Looks like we have time for one more, this one is called ‘Thicker Than Blood.’ ”

Speaking of veteran savvy, Santa Mamba commandeered the room like no other finalist, with lead singer Gio Murillo captivating the uninitiated; by the end of SM’s set, the Lupo’s dance floor was packed with plenty of smiles and ass-shaking. The seven-man collective saluted their South American influence throughout. Losing a contest calibrated for “alt-rock” acts certainly won’t slow Santa Mamba’s momentum heading into summer (check SantaMamba.com for tour dates), and when asked if SM intended to enter the 2011 Rock Hunt, keyboardist Aaron Wade replied, “Definitely.”

I was one of two judges who had You Scream I Scream leading in points by night’s end, and I recall a puzzled look from fellow judge and Fairhaven drummer Jared Gould, particularly after Omer Shemesh left his glockenspiel, grabbed the mic, and slayed some Yiddish speed rhymes about feeding his fish. Bassist/lead vocalist Floyd Kellogg again had that hazy space cadet look in his eye (“Free money, so I can get some cocaine!” went the set opener), stomping around with a smile. I’ll stick with my YSIS assessment as a mash of Ween and the Rentals on spazzy jams like “Rokin Out” and first single “Dog,” while Morphine-flavored stoner cuts “High Maintenance” and “Hit the Ground Running’” are reason alone to pick up their worthy debut, Bug in a Light, at YouScreamIScream.com

As for the Wandas, a totally random reference point would be Matthew Sweet post-100% Fun. We’re talking Nutrasweet Pop here. The Wandas recently played four shows at SXSW and conceded via blog entry that the quartet hadn’t given the Rock Hunt much thought after submitting an entry during a recent nationwide tour. These guys look the part, with harmonies and vocals to match; The Beach Boys hanging out with the Gigolo Aunts? The Wandas are not breaking the bank in terms of lyrical investment, but the catchy and breezy hooks won out. The quartet has a handful of regional shows booked before embarking on another US tour, kicking off July 3 at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA. Judge for yourself: their ’08 debut New Wave Blues is available on iTunes.

Clough reports the Wandas’ first single, “Bending Over Backwards,” will receive “several hundred spins, while the band and station confer on a bunch of ‘what’s next,’ including a supporting act slot at an upcoming Summer Concert Series.

“The prize for winning the Hunt may be guaranteed exposure, but there’s nothing stopping us from spinning and supporting the runners-up,” Clough told me via email. “The field was just too damn good this year. I want ’em all to come along and enjoy the ride.”  

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