Sunday, April 2, 2017

Nothern Lights Festival Boreal Meltdown Review & Results!!

Hey everyone, here's my review of last night's Northern Lights Festival Boreal Meltdown audition/battle of the bands at LopLops Lounge! I haven't missed attending a judged local battle of the bands since the Algoma University Battle in late 2009, so even with late lineup notice, how could I resist? Of course, this event was held and designed by organizers of the NLFB, which is the annual folk/indie music festival in Sudbury each July, which has been going on since 1972, so you know this is a big and established deal. Festival staff were on hand to promote the NLFB, sell tickets, seek volunteers, and sign up attendees on their mailing list (complete with a raffle for festival passes), and hopefully this western outreach pays off come July! Even Sudbury's own Stack Brewery was on hand to dole out beverages for the night. Judging the battle were SooToday's Donna Hopper alongside NLFB executive director Max Merrifield (who MCed the Meltdown), outreach coordinator Krisha Patel, and marketing coordinator Shawn Kosmerly, plus Sudbury music scene veteran Darlene DarlenYa.

Before we begin our review of the performers, just a heads up that one previously announced band dropped out of the event, they being progressive rock veterans Machines Dream, the advertised closing act. The band cited "unforeseen circumstances" for their withdrawal, as per their Facebook page, and though they didn't elaborate further, note that they have been focusing on studio work since their Rotaryfest set last summer, and don't appear to be playing live until their teased CD release party later this year. It's still disappointing to see them drop out, but hopefully Machines Dream are back with a vengeance soon!

Performers only had 15-20 minute sets, so as bands averaged around 4 songs each, apologies if I seem to sum things up quickly. The opening act at the Meltdown was local folk singer/guitarist M.D. Dunn in a rare appearance at a local battle-formatted event from a solo performer. He played a short 3 song set, including originals named "Master of Doubt" and "Solace", plus an instrumental titled "Barnswallowing", and while his style isn't something I hear a lot of, his singing was pleasant and melodic, and he is a solid guitarist in this more reserved, laid back style! I wish he had played longer though, as all of the other bands played at least one more song, and none of them had an instrumental. Next up was alternative/hard rockers Id Iota (the only quartet of the night, believe it or not), and they powered through a 4 (well, sort of 5) song set of newer originals like "Happy Sailor" that got early fans moving!

Their first song had a definite late era-Chili Peppers vibe, while their second song was much faster and heavier, but I wish they announced song names a little more. Christian Lemay handled vocals and the melodica with ease, and everyone had good energy, especially bassist Dan Linklater. Good stuff all around, and it'll be interesting to hear how things shape up for their forthcoming full length CD! Third last night was local pop rock singer/guitarist Mike Mikus, in the first time I've seen his current solo project live, so what can I say? Well, in terms of his backing band, it was a surprise throwback to his old deal's final lineup, as he's replaced drummer Mitchell Harris with Pixo Control bandmate Keeghan Rosso, which was a nice surprise! Nothing bad happened with Mike and Mitch, as you'll see later in the review. Mike and crew (including Id Iota's Dustin Goodall) played a four song set included his debut solo original "Drowning Crown" and three more newer originals.

The latter two had more of an alternative/indie essence, but the second song (possibly titled "Electric Kiss"?) sounded like a Pixo Control outtake, with a very heavy and fast structure, which was really cool to see! I can't say whether Mike is trying to find his solo sound, or if he's intentionally varying things in his current music, but there was a little of everything, and hopefully he keeps at it in 2017! After a 10 minute break (the Meltdown was running ahead of schedule), newer local indie rock trio The Autumn Roots hit the stage in their LopLops debut, where they played a 5 song set including such originals as "Moon Song", "The North", and "Falling Down". A drummer wouldn't come amiss for their quickly expanding slate of material, but The Autumn Roots had a solid set, with Jeremy Hannah's melodic vocals fitting their songs well, and he and Chase Wigmore have a good rapport on guitar! Chase was really getting into it during their set, almost as if there was a metal show going on in his head.

Greg "Carlos" Carscadden needs to be more animated on stage, but overall, The Autumn Roots have a good thing going for their sound, and it'll be interesting to see how things shape up for them as this year rolls along! Local alternative/hard rock trio The Din hit the stage next, looking for their first battle of the bands victory in their fifth try, and they delivered an entertaining four song set including "High Park", "35s The Limit', and "Potato (Should Have Known Better)", with all but the latter expected for their next album. I've seen The Din a lot lately, so I don't have a lot to add (especially with their short set), but they played to their standards, with Tammy Hill's guitar work on point, and Brandan Glew kept the rhythm going well on drums, but be sure to check out The Din at upcoming shows when they're not as time-limited! The audition closed with local folk artist and Ears & Eyes promoter Jackson Reed playing a solo set, as joined by Mike Mikus on bass and his former solo and Fever Tops bandmate Mitchell Harris on drums.

Jackson and crew played a 4 song set largely culled from his "November Gales" cassette EP from last fall, including "Generation Vietnam" and "Welcome Home". I'd never seen Jackson perform live before last night, and if I had to compare his sound to anyone, I sort of got hints of Bob Dylan and Randy Newman from his sincere folksy originals, though he could stand to be a little more confident on stage. Mike's backing vocals could be a little distracting, but overall, Jackson has a good thing going for his genres, and ended the Meltdown in fine form! Afterwards, judges deliberated the winner, and when Max came back to the stage to make the announcement, he did acknowledge that this was a very tough decision, and it was like comparing apples & oranges. With all of that said, who won The Northern Lights Festival Boreal's first ever Sault Ste. Marie audition?

M.D. DUNN! Yes, Mark D. Dunn has claimed the surprise victory in the Meltdown, and has won the all expenses paid trip to Sudbury in July to play at this year's NLFB, as well as opportunities to participate in musical mentorship programs that same weekend. Congratulations to Mark on his victory, he's a talented veteran presence in the local music scene, and this is a nice feather in his cap, so hopefully he makes lots of fans out east! On the surface, this is an upset win given that he had no backing band, played first, and only played three songs, but his talents are clear as day, and Max did note in his introduction that the judging critera also included suitability for the festival lineup. Given their usual genre range, M.D. is a very good fit for the NLFB, and should fit in very well! Runner-up placements were not publically announced, nor were prizes for second place and beyond, but hopefully second place is considered if there's a vacancy at some stage!

For what it's worth, pre-audition advertising noted that there would be two winners in solo and band categories, but that was not the case, possibly as M.D. Dunn was the only true solo performer on the bill (Mike and Jackson had backing bassists and drummers with them.)

Kudos to everyone on strong performances last night, and the turnout was solid too, despite the relatively late notice on the competing bands! After the battle, Id Iota and Mike Mikus played bonus sets, but I couldn't stay for them, though I hope they continued to rock the lounge as well as they did during the battle proper! Surprisingly, this was the first local battle of the bands with judges where I was just a spectator since Downtown Showdown in 2010, so I was in full reviewer/photographer mode, and you can check out my shots from the Meltdown at this link or via our Facebook page! As for videos, I got everyone's first song, so here's M.D. Dunn playing his song "Master of Doubt", Id Iota playing "Intro To American Literature", Mike Mikus playing "Drowning Crown", The Autumn Roots playing "Rock Bottom", The Din playing "Suburban Dream", and Jackson Reed playing "Generation Vietnam"!

That's all for today, but stay tuned for this month's "Where Are The New Albums?" post next! Thanks everyone!

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