Did Columbus play host to last weekend’s most innovative concert, at least in the Hoosier state? Maybe. Seven ramshackle bands, brought together by a love of music and the luck of the draw, played willing guinea pigs Saturday night in the city’s first Random Band Challenge, facing off against each other in a downtown restaurant-turned-venue.
And just what is a Random Band Challenge, you ask? Well, event organizer Rex Sharpe didn’t come up with the idea, but he did take the initiative to bring it to Columbus after seeing a similar event in Minneapolis. It is as it sounds, to a certain extent. Sharpe first reached out to the community to ask local musicians to indicate their interest. He then threw all those names into a hat and selected them, at random, to make up bands comprised of four to five members. Each group was given six weeks to rehearse three original tunes and one cover, with the goal of performing them before a live audience. And those seven makeshift bands ended up performing at The Fork @ 532 on Saturday night, where they vied for a package of prizes that went to the audience’s favorite.
Everything about the challenge came from the grass roots. Sharpe’s partner in shaping the Random Band Challenge, Ryan Hatton, works a day job at The Fork @ 532, so it wasn’t a problem securing it as a venue for the show. The dining room has, after all, recently begun hosting the Fork After Dark series, which showcases local and regional bands from across genres.
Hatton also did his part as a musician. His makeshift group Bros Before Ho-Hos treated the crowd to one of the best performances of the night, played with the steely resolve of a band on the rise. Their four-song set served as a portrait of the influences quietly coalescing within Columbus: post-punk, new wave, no-wave, shoegaze.
The Dairy Cowherd also delivered a blistering set. Anchored by Sharpe on drums, the band’s get-in-get-out punk sound was consistent with their Internet battle with fans of local musician Derrick Howard (as well as Howard himself) who were annoyed with the band’s punning sense of humor. Nick Berg played the part of charismatic lead man, his screams turning to measured whispers within a fury of rapid riffs and snare hits. The band’s biggest splash came with its choice of “Time After Time” as their allotted cover. They infused the Cyndi Lauper ballad with a jolt of real emotion in double time.
The Dairy Cowherd’s devil-may-care attitude carried throughout the evening, from the rough-riding Fornicators to the haggard performance of Champions. Surprisingly, the highs of these thrown-together bands far outweighed the lows — and though Champions may be remembered as the chumps of the evening, their thrash-billy mash-up could have stolen the show had they had more than one practice. This was none more evident than during the band’s electrifying cover of “Stand By Me.” The Leiber/Stoller hit immortalized by Ben E. King has never been as fast and as country as it was in the hands of Champions.
The true star of the evening was the event itself. Despite the fact that two bands dropped out and Champions took the stage only after one practice, the crowd was enthusiastic and receptive. A scene as starved as Columbus thrives on a DIY ethos, and the audience featured both young kids looking to kill a summer night and old vets of Columbus looking to reignite youthful sparks. It was a first baby step towards Columbus emerging from the shadows of Bloomington and Indy to carve its own niche.