Banana Rays and Gears enthralled a crowd of nearly 100 on Saturday, when the bands converged on an intimate Tuscaloosa house show.
The crowd held its breath under a swirling, rainbow-colored banana logo. Seconds before their fourth house show to date, University of Alabama-based band Banana Rays came from conversing with the crowd to centerstage in their signature casual style.
Jacob Scott, the band’s lead singer, walked up to the mic in front of a projected background of swimming sloths. He was dressed in sunglasses, a pair of scrubs and a Tito’s Vodka bandana.
Though their set took place in an off-campus living room, Banana Rays’ presence was anything but small. A fever dream unfolded while Mac DeMarco’s “Freaking Out the Neighborhood” echoed through the lime-green living room. Girls in crop tops swayed to the drums that felt simultaneously soft and powerful.
It became hard to distinguish Scott’s vocals from the crowd’s screams as the band ripped through a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” The fourth-year marketing major truly knows how to captivate his audience. A student crowd surfed within a yard of the stage as the music blared on.
Throughout their largest house show yet, Banana Rays demonstrated that they are more than a college cover band. The notes of original songs and improvised interludes reverberated off the multicolored living room ceiling.
More than anything, Banana Rays continues to be an alternative group stubbornly creating original work in a music scene that encourages played-out classic rock covers.
Henry Pitts, a senior majoring in environmental science, described the decline of the Tuscaloosa music scene outside of the show.
“In the ‘90s and 2000s, Tuscaloosa had a wonderful scene with local bands like The Dexateens, and we’ve slowly gotten away from that with the degradation of local bars like the Alcove and Egan’s,” Pitts said. “Banana Rays and Gears are slowly bringing that back.”
The long-awaited comeback of local music triumphed as Banana Rays chronicled a hatred for high school in one of their yet-to-be-released originals, “Never Going Back.” According to its members, by no means did Banana Rays peak in high school. Ever since meeting during their freshman year at the University, they have been engaged in a period of musical progress. The band officially formed during the current seniors’ sophomore year, and Banana Rays began hosting house shows last April.
Their set ended with a band original, “The Sphinx.” Fans unsuccessfully begged for an encore as one of Tuscaloosa’s most potentially promising bands left the stage.
Alex Herin, the band’s bassist, couldn’t contain his excitement after the set.
“With each show, it just keeps getting bigger, and that was a pretty clear highlight of tonight,” Herin, a senior majoring in psychology, said. “Like, wow, it’s starting to get kind of serious.”
The crowd stumbled out of the living room in between sets, their hearts still beating with the bassline. They congregated in the backyard, but it didn’t feel cold that February night. Sweat glistened on students’ faces under the back door’s fluorescent lights.
The house’s panels started shaking as Gears’ soundcheck grew into their trademark groove. The second set of the night was beginning.
The classic game Donkey Kong played on the converted wall behind Gears while they tore through covers of everything from Prince to Kendrick Lamar.
Gears’ lead guitarist Chandler Grammer effortlessly soloed with his guitar behind his back before a screaming crowd. After the solo, the band paused to announce that “someone’s Audi is blocking the driveway.”
Tuscaloosa natives Christian Crew and Grammer, the core members of Gears, have been developing their unique sound since the sixth grade. Grammer, a senior majoring in audio production and music business, detailed Alabama’s mark on the band’s musical development.
“It’s influenced us a lot as not an angry rebellion, but a little bit of a conscious rejection of the styles that are prominent around here,” Grammer said.
Gears’ long-practiced musical talent shined as a headbanger seamlessly transitioned into a singalong of “Crazy Rap” by Afroman. Only a few moments later, they carried the swept-away crowd into a rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Gears is currently working on a record that they plan to release in March. Crew and Grammer will be moving to Nashville in July with hopes of breaking into one of the largest music scenes in the country.
For the final song of the night, members of Gears and Banana Rays sang together in a cover of “I Shall Be Released” by Nina Simone. It was a bittersweet ending – at every house show Gears and Banana Rays host, the crowd is left wanting more live and local music. In that final moment, though, the audience danced as the two bands radiated funk, rock and passion in front of their largest crowd yet.
Banana Rays’ and Gears’ discographies can be streamed on Apple Music or Spotify. The two bands are on Instagram at @bananarays and @gearsmusic.