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Last band standing

The Rare Occasions triumph at the WBRU Rock Hunt
By CHRIS CONTI  |  April 16, 2014

LOOKING AHEAD The Rare Occasions. [Photo by Nick Cardinale]

The 2014 WBRU Rock Hunt is a wrap — all hail the Rare Occasions! The Met was packed for another tightly contested showcase showdown, and the quartet fought off some tough competition from Jetty, the Stilts, and wild card vote winner the Bitchin’ Aardvarks. And while this year’s final four bracket may have lacked the all-star firepower of last year’s Rock Hunt finale, it was another great night for local music and the Rare Occasions were deserving of the victory.

The all-ages crowd certainly got plenty of bang for the $5 cover charge throughout the evening, and the room filled up quickly prior to the 8 pm sharp start time (shout-out to Michelle Marchetti and the ’BRU Crew for another well-executed event). Each band is allotted a 30-minute set scored on seven categories including Songwriting, Musicianship, and Radio-Readiness, and the lineup order was chosen at random a few days prior. The judges were two reps from Warner Bros. Records, local music journalist Tony Pacitti, Dan Edinburg from (2003 Rock Hunt champs) ZOX, and yours truly.

The Bitchin’ Aardvarks ( were first up and friends and fans were there in force from the jump, as expected: the North Scituate trio was voted in as the wild card winner for the second year straight, beating out some strong competition (including local greats Viking Jesus, the Skinny Millionaires, and Vudu Sister). We were scratching our collective heads at the judges’ table following the first few songs — the standard pop-rock opener “Out of Time” folowed by the decidedly punk thrashers “My Friends” and “Start a Riot.” Band members switched instruments (and vocal duties) and displayed plenty of talent while steadily working the crowd, and really ramped up the action with “Second Chances.” This one is built for radio and reminded us of early Blink-182.

The second time’s a charm for Barrington-bred quartet the Rare Occasions ( Last year TRO ran into goth-metal powerhouse Lolita Black in the semifinals. Lead singer Brian McLaughlin and drummer Luke Imbusch had prior Rock Hunt experience as members of the Valar in 2010 while still in high school. McLaughlin looks barely old enough to drive but instantly worked the room like a pro on “Dysphoric” and “Wickenden Kids.” These new songs sound more dynamic than anything on the 2013 debut EP Applefork. McLaughlin’s voice filled the room (and reminded me of the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner throughout), while he and fellow guitarist Peter Stone ramped up the action on Applefork single “Miss Mary Mack,” backed by the steady rhythm section of Imbusch and bassist Jeremy Cohen. The deal was sealed with the closing new number, “Half-Heartedly.” The band made its SXSW debut this year have set up shop in the Boston area as members attend Tufts University. The Occasions’ victory marks back-to-back Rock Hunt titles for the East Bay (Warren greats Torn Shorts took a close one last year). I checked in with Brian McLaughlin following the victory.

“The audience was energized the whole show, and we love feeding off the crowd during songs like ‘Wickenden Kids,’ ” he said. “That one takes on a new life whenever we play it in front of a Rhode Island crowd.

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