Playing the odds 

Handicapping the battle for “Montana’s Band of the Year”

Full disclosure: it took us a little while to get excited for the second coming of Missoula’s beer-sponsored battle of the bands, a month-long fight for bragging rights as “Montana’s Band of the Year,” plus a grand in cash and some promotional posters. The main reason for the letdown is that this year’s lineup pales in comparison to last year’s star-studded affair, one instantly worthy of attention by virtue of being a veritable who’s-who of the local music scene—it stretched across genres to include perennial nerd-rock favorites Volumen, established jam bands like Miller Creek and swyl, the venerable Oblio Joes, country darlings Shane Clouse and Stomping Ground, and eventual winners the International Playboys, among others.

We’re over it now.

While this year’s competition includes none of the above participants and considerably less name recognition, it still featured 20 local bands and the promise, one hoped, of a new discovery and ascendance to Missoula musical lore. With the finals upon us—Thursday, March 1, starting at 7:30 PM at The Other Side—it’s time to survey the wide-open field. We took inventory of our own impressions of these aspiring bands and spoke off-the-record with some of the competitors, a few judges and organizers to help gauge some general impressions about who might take home this year’s crown.

The Reptile Dysfunction
How they got this far: Our sentimental favorite deserves to win this competition with their no-holds-barred barrage of hardcore street punk. The longtime locals (around in some form since late 2000) have always embodied a certain blue-collar appeal that jibes perfectly with their sound. Case in point: the tireless band is playing an opening slot for Minnesota’s touring Birthday Suits at The Loft the same evening as the competition.

Why they may win: If any of the bands in the final can follow in the footsteps of last year’s winners and epitomize the machismo ethos that comes with beer label sponsorship, it’s these guys.

Indy’s odds: 3-to-1.

Corn Mash
How they got this far: It seems every time this Americana band plays the Old Post Pub they manage to coax a handful of college-aged granola blondes to dance in that impossibly small area between the band and the tables. Their music—a loose mix of blues, bluegrass and country—has a bit of that giddy-up groove to it, but the confined boogying shows serious fan devotion.

Why they may win: Everybody likes a band that brings out college-aged granola blondes.

Indy’s odds: 5-to-1.

Good Neighbor Policy
How they got this far: This is the most sophisticated band in the competition, and by that we mean the only one featuring a cello (played by Bethany Joyce) and James Palmer’s mesmerizing classical piano interludes while still managing to spend most of its sets kicking out robust cardigan-clad folk-rock. Our darkhorse candidate is relatively new to Missoula, having settled in just six months ago, and has a penchant for dramatic arrangements and wispy songwriting. In fact, you’d think they’d belong better in Portland or something—which they probably will once they get too big for here.

Why they may win: Frontman Thomas Pendarvis—like the majority of this band, come to think of it—has an air of stardom, damned if we can put our finger on exactly why. He doesn’t always sound as good as he looks, but pulling that off is part of the charm.

Indy’s odds: 8-to-3.

The Flying Rickshaw
How they got this far: A rumor circulating among some competitors has this funk/blues/rock sextet as the frontrunner to win. While vocalists Chad Lantz and Ryan Waniata get the lion’s share of attention, this band is at its best with diminutive lead guitarist Chris DuPerri carrying the load. Our favorite moments: when he switches to lap slide.

Why they may win: Lantz and Waniata–as well as drummer Ryan Weingardf–have a reputation with female fans for being dreamy. Plus, they have a loyal Top Hat-cultivated following from regular gigs there the last three-plus years.

Indy’s odds: 2-to-1

LP and the Federales
How they got this far: Missoula loves its party bands, and these greenhorns strive for that nebulous sound that hovers like a cloud of secondhand smoke somewhere between funk, alt-rock and white-boy reggae. These guys are perfect for the Montana ski bar circuit.

Why they may win: Could be helped or hurt by playing in the evening’s final spot. The crowd will either have already voted, been sufficiently altered to LP’s liking or, perhaps, forgotten entirely why they’re even there.

Indy’s odds: 7-to-1

Greenstar
How they got this far: The only repeat performer from last year’s finals looks for sweet redemption with its own mix of rock and reggae.

Why they may win: We suppose experience counts. But, at the risk of being overly analytical with a battle of the bands, won’t the abundance of relatively similarly crunchy outfits—LP and the Federales, Greenstar, The Flying Rickshaw and, to a lesser extent, Corn Mash—dilute things in the eyes of the judges?

Indy’s odds: 7-to-1.

Arrows to the Sun
How they got this far: Perhaps a name change helped. Formerly known as Hail Man Well Met, this spacey hardrock trio with a penchant for extended solos comprises guitarist Gavin McCourt, bassist Andrew Stringer and drummer John Hamilton. The band is usually as good as McCourt’s lead guitar and vocals—he’s a pretty enigmatic frontman—and is imminently promising regarding the former and hit or miss with the latter.

Why they may win: They play a punkish song called “Countdown” where the only lyrics are McCourt counting from one to 12 repeatedly. It totally works live.

Indy’s odds: 10-to-3.

Universal Choke Sign
How they got this far: By being really, really loud. The only true metal band in the competition, Universal Choke Sign is back with all the raging vengeance they can muster after being ousted in the first round last year.

Why they may win: The Blaze 96.3 FM fan base is formidable, and with Universal Choke Sign receiving radio play on the local station and acting as the only representative of the metal genre, they’ll receive a substantial fan vote. Plus, they’re actively promoting their campaign with leaflets at local venues like Taco del Sol.

Indy’s odds: 4-to-1

The Pabst Blue Ribbon Montana Band of the Year finals is Thursday, March 1, at 7:30 PM at The Other Side. $10.

sbrowning@missoulanews.com

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