Last night's Last Band Standing event — a showcase, competition, food drive, and rock jamboree organized in large part by South Carolina Federal Credit Union's Young & Free S.C. program — came together with ease and high spirits.
These multiple-band events always have the potential to drag on or swerve in unexpected directions, but everyone from the club staff and the Young & Free volunteers to the sound guy (Wild Wing house veteran Curtis Flewelling) and the bandmembers were punctual, diligent, and focused. Emcee Josh Sutherland handled the mic with geeky enthusiasm and kept things rolling on schedule. A lot of genuine effort came in from all directions, and it paid off well.
A mixed crowd of fans, friends, and families filled the Wild Wing's main music room and side patio as the five finalists — Stereoreform, Meet the Sky, Hollow Reed, The Whisperjets, and Chaos in Gotham — each took the stage for 20-25 minute sets of their best stuff. I joined the four other judges at a front table Charlton Singleton (of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra), Mark Bryan (of Hootie & The Blowfish) vocalist Quiana Parler, and Joel M. Frank (of The Bridge at 105.5 WCOO) for the duration, score sheets in hand.
Each band had its own style and sound. Power trio Stereoreform got super funky right off the bat, and even veered into an unexpected "drum line" with the bassist and guitarist grabbing pairs of sticks and playing rhythmic patterns in unison on one snare drum in synch with the main drummer.
Meet the Sky worked with a grand, eclectic, alt-rock style, with chiming guitars and dramatic vocals. The main guitarist played the set with a broken strumming hand (in a huge cast!).
Hollow Reed got past an initial sound problem with some acoustic guitars and strummed through an almost dream-like set of double-vocal (in unison) folk-pop.
The Whisperjets drew the biggest crowd of fans to the stage, and dazzled the audience and judges with a confident and brassy performance of upbeat mix of guitar-pop and ska-flavored rock.
Without waiting around for an introduction from Josh, Chaos in Gotham, heaviest and most shouty group of the event, launched into a tight set of mid-tempo, surprisingly sophisticated punk originals.
While the final points fluctuated slightly, the judges scored the bands in a pretty consistent order. The panel agreed unanimously on the top two winners. The Whisperjets came out on top (winning $1,000 in cash and a spot on the schedule at the forthcoming ShineFest on Oct. 17), just ahead of Stereoreform (winning $500 in cash). Congrats all around.