Alto was this fantastic and unexpected two piece string band (upright bass and violin) with a pop-folk sound that stood out amongst the copious acoustic guitars and endearing songs about relationships. The two girls playing (both UCLA students in the Ethnomusicology and Music Departments) were different looking—statuesque and self-assured. They just gave off an entirely different vibe that was quite well received (expect to hear about them more from me).
Cameron Hovsepian (last year’s competition winner), Lily Stern, and Courtney Randall are all singer-songwriters, complete with guitar and heartfelt lyrics. Cameron Hovsepian was delightful and hilarious, and won my heart with his James Morrison-like voice and “trumpet solo,” in which he pursed his lips and squeezed out a little tune. Lily Stern had a memorable voice; she had a lot of range and control and was reminiscent of Regina Spektor at times. Courtney Randall wowed me and everyone else with her Taylor Swift cover. I am not in the least in joking when I say she sounded exactly like her. Some would take this for unoriginality, but I was wholly impressed by stellar performance and tribute to the one and only T Swift.
After the judging and revealing of the winners (Lady Danville served as a panel of judges), the main act took the stage. They opened up to a wonderfully receptive and enthusiastic crowd, and the atmosphere was brimming with a sense of fun. I immediately noticed the drummer, Matthew Frankel, playing with his hands (complete with taped up fingers), which created a seriously unique feel and had me captivated. Throughout the set, the percussion continued to fascinate me, from switching between playing open-palmed to sticking to combinations of both, to playing the cajon, to a thunderous kick-drum, to banging a kick-tambourine, to looking like a 3rd grader knocking on a xylophone. It kept everyone (or at least me) guessing and was just plain fun to watch.
The band soon moved into a cover. It started out and you could basically hear the crowd thinking, “…I know this song…what is this song…?” Then “You were a child, crawling on your kneeeeeeees toward it” flows out and everyone thinks “Oh my god, no way!” and a little roar of applause rises and falls. Lady Danville did a fantastic cover of MGMT’s “Kids”—it was organic, rich with harmonies, an even-tempo, and really enjoyable. It was the Iron & Wine cover to the Postal Service; just knowing there are two equally awesome versions of an awesome song in the world is, well, awesome.
Later on, the band played a song aptly titled “Ukulele Song.” I am not kidding when I say this was one of the most adorable songs I’d ever heard and acts I’d ever seen. If I may paint a picture: The three boys of the band all leave their stations and convene at the top of the stage; Dan Chang (on guitar) is in tight plaid pants, a red button up shirt, a bow tie, with thick-rimmed glasses and shiny black Johnny Bravo hair, Matthew Frankel (on drums) is scruffy in a blue and purple flannel, holding a shaker that I think was actually just a water bottle filled with something and covered in blue and green fabric, and Michael Garner (on keys) is in a gray-blue button up shirt with a Tony Danza (click this, seriously) baby face playing the ukulele with a harmonica configured around his face in a headgear fashion; squished together, they begin to play and sing lyrics about watching Rachel Ray and wanting a girl despite her obvious making-out with another boy; they sort of dance around goofily and awkwardly; the crowd is enamored with their Ben-Kweller-mixed-with-Jason-Mraz-like ditty.
They finish up their set, thanking the bands before and the hosts of the event, and getting a good Bruin spirit in the works. They deconstruct the set and head to the back to sell merchandise and meet with the flocking students. Graciously and friendlily, they pose for photos, talk to kids, and sign autographs. They meet with every last one, until the ballroom is empty with chairs and skinny, spectacled kids wheeling out big black boxes. Lady Danville really gave the UCLA students (myself included) a special show, and fostered a sense of community with their approachability and warmth. Not to mention, they make great music (if I had to relate, I’d go with Jack’s Mannequin with not-whiny vocals, a dash of Death Cab, and a touch of folk) and played an extremely entertaining set.