Concert Review: Rocking The Party: Quadapalooza

Two Harvard myths: there is no on-campus music scene and no one goes to the Quad. The publicity e-mails for Quadapalooza, last Friday's multiple-band event organized by Quad Sound Studios (QSS), seemed to imply as much ("THEY say there's no live music at Harvard...THEY have never been to the Quad"). But at the end of the show, the first myth was all but shattered. As for the second...hopefully that'll be worked on.

The PfoHo dining hall isn't a place one immediately thinks of for a rock festival, even a quasi-festival. Sure, visuals of soundwaves were projected onto a screen, but the chairs stacked to the sides were an unmistakable sign of the hall's regular function. The shortcomings of the location were more than aesthetic. Due to the layout of the hall, the drums and bass would often drown out the vocalists, despite the obvious vocal power on display.

But appearances and sound problems be damned, this was a quality show. At 11pm, Matt Weinshall '02 stepped on stage with his guitar and his band, comprising Mike Liebman (keyboards), Dave Fisher '02 (bass), Jeff Rakofsky (drums) and Sara Zelle '03 (vocals). The tight ensemble work, sharp guitar playing and Zelle's stunning vocals brought life to the songs. Zelle's voice was both plaintive and powerful, injecting passion into lyrics such as "Baby, don't ask me to carry your weight" (from "I'm Here," the opening song). The band also played a superb arrangement of U2's "With or Without You," with Liebman's piano work creating a haunting backdrop to Zelle's growling, husky vocals. True, the band could have done with more stage presence. The usual stage trick of the guitarist and bassist facing off didn't work when the guitarist's back was to the audience and the band's mishmash of outfits suggested a lack of polish. It would be churlish, though, to harp on minor flaws in what was otherwise a very enjoyable set. One of their songs may have been titled "Queen of Melodrama," but the band managed to play a tight, moving set without ever straying into the realm of the melodramatic.

The next band, North House, was a more dynamic presence. The crowd grew visibly larger (a quick head-count indicated about 80 to 90 souls) to see the show's main act and North House did not disappoint. Playing in the place from which they derived their name, North House, led by Al Bennett '00 (founder of the QSS), possessed an uncanny ability to work a crowd, with Bennett entering beating two drumsticks together to stir up noise. It was a polished stage act; more than that, it showed talent. Bennett's voice and the clear, crisp sounds of his guitar (especially on the slinky guitar lick that opened "Chinese Cabdriver") worked well with the smouldering voice of the group's other lead singer, Becky Warren (a Wellesley senior). Small wonder people were standing on chairs, straining for a glimpse of the band.

Besides the regular band members (Jose Sandoval '02 on keyboard, Taylor Terry '03 on bass and Mike Blaugrund '00 on drums), a plethora of guests populated the act. Using two of Harvard's best violinists, Joe Lin '00 and Christina Castelli '00, as well as Kate Bennett '00 on cello, to create the swelling strings in the background on "Anastasia" was a bit overblown, but it certainly was a good gimmick.

In contrast to the more pop-based sensibilities of the previous groups, Ari Welcom and Co. was an unabashed hard rock band. Coming on at midnight, the group announced its intentions upfront, kicking off with a long, looping guitar introduction (courtesy of guitarist Duane Koh '00) filled with feedback and distortion. The dreadlocked lead singer, Alvin McCottry '00, unfortunately sounded muffled throughout, drowned beneath a sea of distortion from the sometimes overly self-indulgent guitarists. Still, the group's drum-intensive cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" inspired manic pogoing among some of the faithful who had remained, even though their sped-up version lacked any of the slow, simmering moments that had made the original so menacing. Perhaps it was McCottry's intensity: he jumped into the crowd, as well as fell to the floor with the mic. But eight people do not a mosh pit make and here, perhaps more so than any other point in the show, the thinness of the crowd detracted from any attempts at a rock-festival feel.

But, in contrast to the multitude of instruments on display, it took just two turntables and two microphones to make for what was perhaps the evening's highlight. Only about half the crowd had stayed for the closing performance, by freestyle rap duo Scott & Chiqui (comprising Scott Roy '99 and Chiqui Matthew '00, with Tyler Wood '01 as turntablist), but as the duo called the audience forward, it became clear that the wait was worth it. Roy and Matthew's rhymes flowed smoothly, and their old-school touches (human beatbox effects and a strong effort at turntablism). Perhaps the best display of their skills was "Topics," where the duo rapped about any topic the audience threw at them, improvising some delicious rhymes seemingly from leftfield: Christmas ("seemed last year I got a Sega Genesis/Now my Ma's my nemesis") and the X-Files ("it's really complex/To analyze what's next"). Scott & Chiqui displayed impressive pop-culture name-checking ("Just last week I saw Princess Amidala/Grab Portman by the collar"), a sense of humor (somehow Roy worked in the lyrics of the dreidel song in his rap on Hanukkah). "Have you ever heard of freestyle like this?" they asked in one of the songs. "Not at Harvard, not until now," would have probably been the most appropriate response.

So PfoHo did have something to give up to Adams in their recent war after all: the Quad Sound Studios look like they are on their way to becoming a major force on the on-campus music scene. Now, if only more people made their way up Garden Street...

For more on-campus music mayhem, see the preview of Blast!, Crimson Arts' very own music event this Friday on page B-3. Al Bennett and North House were featured in a Crimson Arts feature on Nov. 19, "Finding Release," which can be accessed through the Crimson's online archives.

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