A Musical Odyssey: SPORTS Takes Columbus

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of tagging along with Kenyon’s own SPORTS at their first off-campus gig, which went down at Carabar, a funky little spot in downtown Columbus.  The all-ages show also featured Columbus’s own Pretty Pretty and headlining act Radiator Hospital from Philadelphia, who had just finished up a U.S. tour. Punk rock was the flavor of the evening, and the crowd was down — albeit slightly tame.

Read on for the full review, plus more photos and even a video of SPORTS in action!

I have to say, seeing a Kenyon band playing a non-Gambier venue was a first for me (though clearly they do it all the time), and I was really pleased with the results. Unfortunately, SPORTS’ guitarist Catherine Dwyer ’14 could not make it out for the show, but her Ice Cream Social bandmate Jack Washburn ’16 filled in admirably. The band made sure to include her in spirit — perhaps it’s hard to see in this photo, but you can kind of glimpse of Dwyer peeking out over the guitar of Carmen Perry ’15 in the photograph below:

The crowd was an eclectic mix of twenty-somethings dressed in all manner of “alternative” styles: dyed hair, torn (and very skinny) jeans, facial hair of diverse shapes and sizes. Despite their seeming inability to dance or physically emote beyond the occasional head nod or awkward swaying, most of the bar crowd was there for the music, and they remained engaged with the various performances throughout the night.

The opener, Pretty Pretty, played an upbeat set of punk tunes that were mostly held together by the energy and tight-knit control of their drummer.  He kept steady and relentless time with the other two members (a bassist and a guitarist who doubled on vocal duty) while still keeping things interesting with the occasional blast-beat fill or poly-rhythm. It was fun stuff, but not terribly impressive — and it didn’t help that the crowd wasn’t really getting in the punk “mood,” which in my experience involves a lot of reciprocal physicality, a lot of bodies slamming into bodies, which I see as a way for a crowd to express the immediacy of the music they’re hearing. Even a sub-par punk outfit can make a crowd really move in spite of their lack of musicality: energy is just so crucial to punk, but despite the bands’ best efforts the Carabar crowd stayed pretty polite.

But what Pretty Pretty lacked in songcraft or personality, SPORTS managed to bring to the table in spades for their set. As with the prior band, Perry’s vocals were lost in the mix a lot of the time (which I blame on the venue of course, not on Perry), which meant that the already static crowd wasn’t really hearing. But people still stuck around for this little college band — in fact, the crowd even grew a bit more and managed to loosen up dance-wise a little bit. I think we can thank my fellow seniors Paul Hoehn and Becca Hafter for that, as you might glimpse in the video below:

It was definitely the best set I’ve seen SPORTS play, at Kenyon or otherwise.  Benji Dosseter ’15 proved himself a veritable machine on the drums, keeping breakneck pace with his bandmates without pushing the tempo. James Karlin ’15 firmly anchored the band’s tunes without falling prey to the “I only play the root of the chord” mindset so many punk bassists seem to have; keep your eye on him next time you see the band play, his fills are absolutely crucial. Young Washburn strummed heroically in his first SPORTS gig, filling out the group’s sound with choice riffs and skillful grace notes, while Perry kept the crowd engaged with her I-take-no-shit-but-definitely-still-give-one stage presence and emotive vocal delivery.

Sure, it was hard to hear the lyrics, but even when you’re just barely hearing Perry growl the words “my heart’s sinking / you’ve been drinking / my tears will be dry when morning comes,” it’s impossible not to connect with the hurt you can hear in her voice, and the way that hurt has found a catharsis through the insistent, indomitable drive of SPORTS’ sound (though it should be noted she explores softer sounds too). Something about punk just wants to break out of the speakers and move people, and in my observation it does this primarily by being really fast and really loud. SPORTS is one of those bands that can take “really fast and really loud” as a starting point and take it into the realm of “real feelings,” a feat I find pretty impressive.

Last up was Radiator Hospital.  They were definitely the most official band on the bill (i.e., they’re touring and making records with little to no recognition thus far), and they definitely proved it with their chops. All the instrumentalists on board were top-notch, and their frontman/songwriter was definitely more interested in re-appropriating and reinterpreting punk rock than simply trying to repeat it.  The songs had an indubitable punk energy to them, but with more breaks, dynamics and more varied pace than the two bands before them. I personally enjoyed their music very much and think you would too.

All in all, a cool opportunity to see how Kenyon bands might be received in non-Kenyon environments, and undoubtedly an awesome show in any case.

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