By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor
The traditions of a Duquesne homecoming are synonymous with any typical homecoming. Alumni who matriculated to their respective school return with a sense of nostalgia, and a king and queen represent a university of nearly 10,000 students.
Fundamentally, these factors allow for a successful weekend, but cannot solely express values and hobbies of an entire student body. Saturday’s second annual Battle of the Bands inside the Union Ballroom took exception to that dilemma with creative acts of folk tunes and classic rock n’ roll that displayed a portion of Duquesne’s musically inclined students and alumni.
As a small audience filled the Ballroom around 8 p.m., last year’s winning act Port Vue took the stage with a blend of classic rock and even elements of country to start the show.
The five piece alumni band displayed a handful of tracks, primarily original compositions that featured a solid vocal performance from Joe Penzelik and a variety of instrumentation that was implemented by lead guitarist Ben Sudie. Sudie even brought out a steel pedal guitar for one of their tracks,
Following last year’s champions was the quintet known as The Annexation of Puerto Rico. In contrast to Port Vue’s classic rock roots these guys were much less conventional, but had an incomparable stage presence. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player, Cody Holmes showed off an impressive range of tones throughout the set and had great audience awareness during each song. Holmes even played to the crowd by grabbing an unknown bystander from the audience and dancing with her for a brief moment.
Quite possibly the largest factor that placed The Annexation as an early winner of the battle was their lead guitarist AR Banks, who by far displayed some of the best skills of the evening. His solo from a Kings of Leon cover would have impressed Jimi Hendrix.
After The Annexation’s strong performance, it was interesting to see what act could follow. What the audience wasn’t expecting was a string quartet that walked onto the stage without shoes and socks, donning sunglasses with black ties. It was none other than Narwhal Sunrise.
The five-piece band is known for its twist on some of pop culture’s mainstream hits, and they did not disappoint by covering fan favorite song “Toxic” by Britney Spears and Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So.” The combination of cello and banjo really made for an interesting variety to Saturday’s show and was certainly the most original concept for a band. Narhwal Sunrise was lead by singer and occasional guitarist, Thomas Currey. Although he was not necessarily the highlight of the band’s set, he maintained a very fluid tempo to each track and made sure that none of his band mates were offbeat.
Second to last in the lineup was Buffalo’s own The Divisions, who had an edgier perception of alternative rock than any of the other performers of the evening. The band played a variety of original tracks and also covers. Standing out among the rest of the set was recently released single “Take Everything” which featured a solid drum performance from Ben Smith and smooth vocals from front man Nico Zarcone.
What really got the crowd engaged was the band’s rendition of Amy Winehouse’s hit “Valerie” and Bill Wither’s “Ain’t no Sunshine When She’s Gone,” which got quite a few of the adults and alumni in attendance to sing along with Zarcone. Their ability to easily play a song from a completely different genre and adjust to their style of play was seamless and did not come off as a forced cover.
Lastly, and perhaps the most anticipated act of Battle of the Bands was electronic pop-punk artist Emerson Jay. Jay made his official live debut at last year’s battle, so this year’s show definitely held some weight to not only play well, but to win. As soon as Jay appeared onto the stage, a handful of Duquesne underclassmen rapidly approached him, excited for his set.
Jay, alongside the rest of his band, delivered on the hype. His fusion of electronic dance tunes and pop melodies were unlike any other act of the night.
Although Jay’s band displayed solid talent throughout the set, they were particularly used for background music. Jay was the focal point of the entire performance, centralized on stage with his microphone and programming equipment.
Despite quality sets from all acts of the night, the fans voted for The Annexation of Puerto Rico as their first place winners and Jay close behind as second.
With a clear progression of artistry from just a year’s time, it will be exciting to see what next year’s battle has in store for Duquesne.