I approached the review of the first Battle Of The Bands Semi-Final with some trepidation. After all, having covered two of the last four heats, I was worried my input on the bands who played on Monday 3rd would be repetitive. I was therefore grateful as a reviewer and a listener to the vast differences and improvements that the four sets demonstrated from the heats. Monday saw a group of excellent bands take to the stage, and whilst Academic Audio and Saudade were worthy of their places in the finals, the quality of the night overall was formidable. If the second semi can repeat this high standard, we’ll be in for another great showcase of live music on the 10th.
Ennor, who advanced from Heat 3 alongside Kaleidoscope Eyes, were the first band to play on the night. Many of you will be familiar with lead singer, Tom Elliott, who gigs frequently around Exeter; the set consisted of his summery, electro-acoustic, self-penned tracks. Sporting the most unique line-up of the evening, it was great to hear the strains of the cello through the speakers, which complemented guitar, bass and cajon. Indeed, special mention must go to the cajon player, who had flown in to support from Bristol. This late substitution was of no issue to the set overall, and I felt the percussion was nuanced throughout. All in all, a strong set with several well-written pieces, and whilst they didn’t progress, I suggest you keep an eye on the band’s progress if you aren’t already.
Saudade really stepped it up a gear from Heat 1. Whilst I enjoyed their previous performance, I felt sound distribution was a problem - however this issue was non-existent in the semis. Buoyed by a strong response from the crowd, their performance was energetic, without undermining the musicality. Like the heats, front man Sean Phillips was charismatic, keeping the focus of the crowd throughout their U2-influenced set. With their deserved progression, you should expect them to deliver a similarly solid set in the final.
Academic Audio were the only band I hadn’t yet seen, so I was unsure what to expect. However, in stark contrast to any other act in the competition, their funk-tinged sound was refined, memorable and ultimately strong enough to see them safely move onto the next stage. The musicianship throughout the set was tremendous, as the 5-piece coped effortlessly with complex instrumentation such as frequent time signature changes. I appreciated the fleeting cover of the Jackson Five’s I Want You Back, the use of the cowbell by the percussionist in their opening number, and the flawless call/response vocals towards the end of the set. On the back of this confident and adept performance, they surely have a good chance of winning the final in a few weeks time.
The last band, Bloom, who progressed from Heat 4, had perhaps changed the lease from their previous stage. With their impressive set still in my memory, their performance in the semis did not seem to differ greatly, despite containing a few unheard tracks. Nevertheless, their act was still strong, with noticeable improvements in the overlapping vocals between guitarist and lead, whilst their cover of Outkast’s Hey Ya still hit hard. Whilst they didn’t progress, it’s worth considering that as first years, they’ll definitely have more attempts. Hopefully they’ll cement their place as contenders next year.
Overall then, the first semi was the strongest night of music that Battle Of The Bands has seen so far. On the back of this resounding success for Campus Bands, we’re hoping the second Semi-Final that takes place on Monday 10th will be just as good.