Earlier this year, I reviewed Coral Bones’ Youthemism for this very publication. It is my very favorite local album of 2013. I was ecstatic to finally see some of those songs live when I found out they had made it to the final. I was not disappointed. After lighting the room on fire with a new track, “Queensway,” Bennion was joined onstage by local songstress and, apparently, Mitt Romney’s niece, Emily Vienna. They fired into one of my favorites from the album, “Nightshade,” which started a bit roughly, which Bennion later attributed to their monitors being a bit loud. But when, at about a minute in, the song kicked in, Coral Bones was back on their feet. The knockout moment of the show came right afterward, when Bennion talked about struggles with bipolar disorder and the revelation from his doctor that the experiences he has had with God and religion have been more or less a symptom of his ailment. It was an intensely heavy moment that you don’t expect to find at a show like this, and what followed was a poignant performance of the deeply personal “Dusty Corners,” the haunting closer to Youthemism. For the next two songs, Bennion departed from his piano and showed us his chops on the guitar, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with high-energy songs “Weathervane” and “Rounded With a Sleep” (from 2012’s Sods’ Opera). It was truly a transcendent performance, and one that I will remember for a long time. I really did feel bad for the next act.
After 10 or so minutes of setup and sound check, Mimi Knowles’ band was onstage, ready to go. They launched into the first few funky bars of “A little bit of.” Knowles jumped onstage moments later and started in with a Maxwell-meets-Common vibe. The crowd was instantly hooked. A funk/rap/jazz/soul show broke out in Velour, and I’m not sure anyone knew what to do, but Knowles knew exactly what he was doing, working the stage like James Brown, while rapping and crooning his way through the set.
Through the many highlights of the set, I’d have to say Knowles’ monologue of love lost and found again at the end of “T/Here,” followed by a stage dive and his band absolutely showing their talent, was probably my favorite. Knowles has star quality, there’s little doubt, but his band is just as much of a draw, if not more so. I was especially drawn to sax-master Candido Abeyta, whose smooth, near-perfect solos time and time again gave validation to the rest of the band’s genre-bending ambitions.
In the end, Mimi Knowles was crowned victorious, and for good reason. He is a hell of a performer, and that proved to be the difference, with a crowd vote deciding the outcome as Knowles and Coral Bones tied on judges’ scores. Both acts were deserving that night, and an argument could be made for one or two of the other acts. Velour’s Kaneischa Johnson, the show’s emcee, afterward said it was one of the best Battle of the Bands they had put on. Coming from someone who has witnessed the likes of Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons come out of the competition as victors, that’s pretty high praise. When all of my scores were tabulated, I had Mimi Knowles as a slight winner over Coral Bones, 42 – 40, but damn it if I still am not thinking about the latter’s performance.