Public radio WNYC and WQXR have relaunched their annual “Battle of the Boroughs,” when bands stretch and flex their vocal chords and guitar strings against their neighbors to be the one group to ultimately compete against the other winners from each borough.
Last Friday seven Queens bands, narrowed from 58 applicants, performed at The Greene Space in Manhattan. The audience and judges whittled the group down to five.
Performance footage of these finalists is online at the greenespace.org until Monday. Whichever band has garnered the most votes by then will be crowned the best of Queens and will rep our borough in the final competition on June 21.
Sean Nowell and The Kung-Fu Masters brought their instrumental aptitude to the stage. Nowell gave his all on the saxophone, saying in a post-performance interview with WQXR host Terrance Mc Knight“ that music reaches across all borders, all across the world.”
The multimember band was accompanied by — what to call her — a kung-fu master. Truly. She kicked, spun, punched and whirled lime green nunchucks around at a frenzied pace that scared a few front- seat guests.
The judges liked The Kung-Fu Masters the best saying they should be hired right away as a late night show’s house band and that they felt they got “a proxy kung-fu workout.”
Before them Radio Jarocho brought a smile to the audience’s faces with modernized music based on the sounds of southern Veracruz, Mexico.
The five-piece band merrily played while Gabriel Guzm·n sang about coffee — “cafe, cafe”— and Julia del Palacio stomped in beat to the music on top of a wooden box, creating percussion without a drum.
An issue for judge Nona Hendryx, the legendary singer in the trio Labelle, whose biggest hit was “Lady Marmalade,” was the language barrier. But Guzm·n said Spanish is more accessible than many languages — especially in New York.
Hendryx also took issue with the language barrier for the Japanese soul band Neo Blues Maki, which was eliminated. The audience didn’t connect to the song, even though the kimono-clad lead singer‘s voice had an amazing range.
A chuckle rippled though the audience when bassist Soshi Uchida explained the song was about riding on a rogue M60 bus to the Bronx.
“Maybe that’s a little too late,” Uchida said.
The other eliminated competitor was solo R&B singer Cavelle-Nell Romeo. Her voice rocked, but voters in the audience wanted a band to accompany her and her lyrics were a little superficial.
The next three bands all are in the running along with the Sean Nowell and The Kung-Fu Masters and Radio Jarocho until Monday.
Raycee Jones led the band The Dirty Gems though a tear-jerking ballad. Her presence was strong with flashy purple hair to match her glittery eye makeup and sky-high heals. This band seemed to be the frontrunner at Friday’s performance.
Nicole Zuraitis brought a taste of India to New York, delivering a sound she fell in love with while working as an animal rights activist there. Zuraitis commanded a Nora Jones sort-of vibe as the lead vocalist and pianist. She was accompanied by two bandmates and a singer who filled in the song with chants — and whose stagnant stage presence yet front-and-center position on the stage confused judges as to who was the frontwoman. This may have come from her joining the band only recently, as Zuraitis explained later.
The last band in the final five is the Gentleman Brawlers from Ridgewood. They are an eclectic mix of rock, folk and free-form rhythmic dancing. Becca Fox enchanted guests with her dancing, but fell a little short when she pushed her voice to higher notes.
From here on out only online votes will determine who will compete against the top bands from Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx.
So go, get online.