Face Off: Communion of the Bands is a biannual event organized by the Student Programs Board at Boise State University. The event is not a competition, nor does it involve facial replacement surgery, and thank god, Nicholas Cage is never present. Generally ten local bands or musical acts perform for about 30 minutes each—in a safe, sterile environment. The concert is sponsored by Boise State and various local businesses that set up tables along the wall. The event takes place in a large, carpeted room in the Student Union building.
Face Off bands are selected by a mysterious committee. These chosen bands play for free and there's no charge to get into the event. Face Off is usually very popular with the pubescent and recently post-pubescent, and the crowd is heavily thinned when the curfew hour approaches. Moshing is discouraged. There are generally policemen circling about like avian scavengers. This semester's installment, the eighth overall, occurred unceremoniously last Wednesday, April 21. Disgruntled Boise State senior Sean Bratnober said of the show, "Face Off ... more like Whack Off."
Historically, Face Off has featured some very diverse, interesting or at least relatively unclassifiable acts: Hot Dog Sandwich, Clock, Sparky Park and the Aardvarks, The Knifeswitch, Mad Ro, Organech, Danger Baby and others. This time around, the event featured little of such variety, and hence was much less fun than it might have been.
Four of the bands: Far and Above, Down By One, Pushcart and Fifel represented the emo/pop-punk style recently made nauseatingly popular by bands like Thursday, Taking Back Sunday and New Found Glory. It may seem unfair to make such a laconic generalization, but one could not help wondering if these outfits had liquefied MTV2 and rigged up an intravenous supply line. However, these high-school aged bands did draw a good deal of enthusiasm from the crowd and they displayed plenty of musical competence. Of the four, Far and Above were "far and above" the sloppiest, gawkiest—and conversely—the most honest and creative. Their vocalist has one heck of a ferocious scream.
Four more of the bands were also steeped in a common aesthetic. Sub*Vert (who have appeared at numerous Face Offs), Midline, Abrupt Edge and Evologic peddled the tepid nu-metal/rap-core stuff that has been a staple of rock radio for over 10 years and absolutely refuses to resign its prominence. Honestly, how many permutations of Tool, Korn and Rage Against the Machine are logically possible? To be fair, Sub*Vert and Evologic in particular, have plenty of talent, but unless they find ways to sublimate their chosen genre they probably won't evolve out of banality. Midline is a lost cause. Their cheeseball alt-rock garnered the slightest response from the crowd of any band that night, and for good reason. Midline deserves credit though, for putting so many years and so much work into the aural equivalent of sucking on raw tofu. Furthermore, no one should cover "Mother Love Bone" without handing out medical release forms beforehand. Jesus guys, there were minors present. What were you thinking?
If one were silly enough to risk the wrath of the tattooed, tough-looking dudes in Switch Hitter, one might describe them as adult contemporary pop-punk, something like the unhealthy spawn of Bad Religion and Bryan Adams. The band is substantially more cohesive with new bassist/guitarist Erin Russell and, as always, their set was very energetic, goofy and entertaining. But Switch Hitter may not appeal to those who like their punk rock raw and scrappy.
Despite playing what guitarist vocalist Ryan Sampson called "a style of music that has been dead for ten years," the PirkQlaters were the undisputed crowd favorites. Dozens of audience members, several with mohawks, gleefully exhumed the art of skanking, if only for half an hour. Recently resurrected from oblivion, the band proves that ska or ska-punk isn't deceased, or they are at least blissfully unaware of its passing. With a revamped lineup, they're tighter and somehow more exuberant than they were five years ago and just as good as any band you can name from the mid-to-late 90s ska explosion. Well, OK, they're not as good as Hepcat or the Skunks.
So the whole spectacle dubbed Face Off 8 wasn't a complete wash, but it was clear that this semester the folks on the Student Programs Board were focused more on catering to the lowest common denominator than promoting musical diversity and quality artists. For shame.