On Tuesday, I not only had the pleasure of attending Battle Of The Bands, but also of helping to judge this third heat. After a £3 Kronenbourg (gotta love those low Lemmy prices) and some mingling while the stage was set up, the night’s first act, Brace For Impact, took to the stage. The three-piece quickly dispelled any minor anxieties I had that I was in for an hour and a half of scrappy friendship groups performing a butchery of my favourite songs.
Brace For Impact didn’t summon any riotous enthusiasm from the audience on account of being quite shy – a static and sometimes slightly awkward stage presence proved a perpetual hindrance to my enjoyment of the act. That being said, the talent of all three members was not up for debate – the drummer is right up there with the best I’ve seen on the amateur scene. The band played original tracks that were definitely of a preferred sound, which despite the tightness of the set and well contemplated balance between drums, bass, and faded vocals, left the audience wanting a little bit more ‘oomph’ from each song. They closed with a pleasantly up-tempo, powerful final song which didn’t have the same problem, but made one think that maybe the other songs needed a little more work in order to reach the band’s true level.
It was a pretty quick turnaround before the next act was ready – quite impressive considering that Holocene are a six-person set. This band was fronted by a female vocalist with an ethereal voice whom I adored; she really wowed the audience with a difficult to achieve vocal power, raising her lyrics above two guitars, a bass, a keyboard, and drums without compromising on clarity. Again, I can’t pick out many negatives regarding the band’s musical ability; aside from one or two botched guitar riffs, they were pretty solid, taking into account the number and mix of instruments.
The issue for Holocene is that, with this much going on on-stage, they lacked consistency - they seem to have lost some cohesion with their size. Their first track was probably my favourite – a nice break from the type of stuff I’ve heard at BOTB in the past. Yet after this intriguing intro, their confused and slightly chaotic conferring foreboded the rest of their act; a standard, rockier second track unfortunately signalled the end of their mysterious appeal – it was a stark contrast to the first song, lacking any really interesting elements. Like Brace For Impact, Holocene were undoubtedly a quality group of musicians, but they had the opposite problem – the mixture of instruments and styles on exhibition led to a chaotic feel which dampened some really good aspects of the set, for me.
And then along came Late Nights & Long Drives, the climax of this week’s heat. There was energy, there was also noise. The quartet left me feeling frail – a testament to their drive and truly incomparable stage presence. I don’t know much about Punk, but the other judges and I agreed “it sounds like good Punk”. Apart from the fact that sometimes the sheer volume drowned out any individual aspects of their set, they were really solid. The frontwoman exemplified everything great about punk bands; she was evocative and charismatic – asking the crowd to step closer to the stage after their first song, which took some courage. It made me sad to see their pumped up on-stage antics wilt around the third song, and by the last song I’d grown slightly weary of the same sort of loud, full-on sound. I couldn’t tell if this was an issue with the band, or just me not understanding the complexities of the genre.
Me & Tea rounded off the heat, serving up a delicate, acoustic dessert to follow the Punk black pudding and mash that was Late Nights & Long Drives. Dressed in twee outfits, the lovey-dovey duo opened with a thoroughly enjoyable rendition of Get Lucky by Daft Punk (a song I generally despise). Between songs, there was a confident and natural back-and-forth between the pairing, plus some well executed audience interaction. They played a couple of original songs which focused attention on yet another female singer’s delectable vocals, stunning the judging panel. My only qualm with Me & Tea was their occasional misuse of their vocalist’s sound, opting to employ her voice in songs where a powerful voice is required. She did pull this off, but I felt her beautiful voice was suited to the more velvet songs from their set.
When the time came to judge the bands, the whole things was a mess. I thought all the bands were exceptional; one after the other they had blown to pieces any preconceptions I had previously held (namely that an amateur band night at the Lemon Grove wouldn’t be a fantastic way to spend a Tuesday night!). Me & Tea, alongside Brace For Impact, made it through to the semis. Yet there was a lot of confusion as bands were tied and heads were scratched over how to choose any one of the four over the others.
I will be frequenting BOTB from now until its conclusion, and I’d urge anyone reading this to do the same. The competitors, though not without their little flaws, provided a spectacular experience.