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Let's get ready to 'Rumble'! Local bands set to compete in a Boston tradition

Posted by Alex Pearlman  March 26, 2012 09:33 AM

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Boston Emissions Rock N Roll Rumble logo.jpgBy Angela Stefano

The battle of the bands is tried and true musical tradition. Artists of every genre participate in them. Movies base plots around them, and TV shows like American Idol and The Voice capitalize on the idea of them. Winning one of them can bring a small-time band major exposure.

But Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble host Anngelle Wood prefers to think of the event she calls “the World Series of Boston rock” as something much more than your typical battle.

“While it is technically a battle of the bands -- and the longest-running one in the country -- it really has become [a] much-anticipated springtime Boston music festival,” Wood said in an email. “Fans come out, bands step up [and] play their best sets, [and] we all become friends.”

However you want to classify it, the Rumble’s 33rd iteration kicks off this Sunday night, April 1, at Central Square’s T.T. the Bear’s Place. Over the course of nine nights, 24 local bands will play a series of shows -- six preliminaries, two semifinals, and one final -- in hopes of being crowned this year’s winner. Notable past Rumble participants include The Dresden Dolls, Powerman 5000, and Letters to Cleo.

“The Class of 2012 is going to win you over,” said Wood, who’s been hosting the Rumble since 2008, when she became WBCN’s local music director and host of the local music show Boston Emissions. “Get ready to be impressed.”

And she should know: All Rumble participants are bands that Wood has been following and playing on her show for at least the past year. “There is no official submission process in terms of a band applying or paying fees,” she said; rather, as Rumble host, Wood invites them.

“Ultimately, I am paying attention to what bands are doing,” she said. “I do have conversations with people who are fans of and knowledgeable about local music, but ultimately, the decision is mine based on the show and who has released new music [and] been active through the [past] year.”

In the end, however, it’s the judges -- “musicians, writers, DJs, engineers, bloggers, and media professionals,” Wood said -- who decide the Rumble winner.

“Judges are told to remain anonymous on their night. No one knows until they are announced at the end of each night,” Wood said. “No one judge can single-handedly influence the nightly results, but it is just easier to keep it about the bands and not about them.”

Beyond playing and practicing as much as possible in the days and weeks beforehand, preparing for a competition like the Rumble -- or any musical competition for that matter -- is a more nebulous feat than, say, preparing for a sporting event. In these cases, as the cliche goes, the best defense is a good offense.

“Having been to a lot of Rumble shows over the years, the one thing we know is that what everyone expects or plans on is going to go out the window,” said David Mirabella, singer and guitarist for Rumble competitors The Rationales. “We’ll just play as best we can and have as much fun as we can.”

The band, which Mirabella formed via Craigslist in 2007, put out their first full-length album, The Distance In Between, last year and recently released a new single, “Radio.” The band describes their music as “American rock ‘n’ roll," Mirabella said, but “people tend to lump us either as power pop or Americana[, which] we’re fine with.”

Although they've never played in a Rumble before, The Rationales are no stranger to the event or Boston Emissions. They’ve been attending Rumbles for years, “so when we put out our record last May, we really pushed to hope that radio stations were aware of it,” Mirabella said. “When the time came for the invitations, [Wood] reached out to us, and we were very excited about it.”

parlour bells.jpgThe band is looking forward to competing against “heavy-hitters” like The Grownup Noise, Cooling Towers, and Parlour Bells, Mirabella said. “It’s basically anybody’s game.”

Still, a band like Parlour Bells, for example, who played their first show “as a duo with a MacBook in 2010,” said singer Glenn di Benedetto, and then fleshed out into a five-piece, may have an edge in the competition (if such a thing exists): The group's guitarist, Nate Leavitt, has taken part in two previous competitions with other bands.

“We had a very busy 2011,” including winning approval from Dave Navarro himself for a cover of Jane's Addiction's "Classic Girl,” di Benedetto said, “and we're honored that 2012 has already led to this.”

But even with past experience on their side, Parlour Bells -- who describe their music as "[evocative of] the musical storytelling and theater of indie anthem acts such as Arcade Fire, but complemented with the sexiness and swagger of David Bowie" -- knows they're up against a solid set of competitors.

“Each one of these great bands possesses a special something that makes them worthy competition,” di Benedetto said, echoing Mirabella's sentiments. “It's such a diverse field of talented people this year [that] I really think it's anyone's game.”

Photo of Parlour Bells (bottom) courtesy of the band

About Angela -- It's "Ang," if you please -- or, alternately, Bill, Penny Lane, or (begrudgingly) Angus to some. I've been with TNGG since the site started and am now the TNGG Boston editor for I graduated from Boston University's College of Communication in 2009 and am a huge fan of live music, hockey, and Thai food. I'm also a bit of a klutz, but that's only because my mind and body are always going in approximately a zillion separate directions. Twitter: @amstefano988

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