With no idea what to expect in terms of style or talent, I dropped in to the Lemmy on Tuesday for the final heat of this year’s Battle Of The Bands competition. Upon arrival, I was swiftly assured by the sound techs that, on the strength of their sound checks, this was arguably the best line-up of bands in any heat so far.
First onstage was National Acrobats, a group who only formed within the last month. Considering that, I wasn’t expecting much but I was stunned by the quality of their three original tracks. While there was nothing hugely individual about their sound – they seemed to largely be inspired by modern British indie – I admired their confidence when jamming out their instrumentals. They were incredibly tight as a group, so much so that I would have imagined they had been together for years. They finished their set with a great cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love (I used to love The Futureheads’ version but haven’t heard it in years). Nonetheless, their three originals outshone it.
Next up was five-piece, Drive In Saturday, who have just dropped their debut EP. Immediately, their sound struck me as more distinct, with a bouncy keyboard line driving the introduction to their opening song. Although the keys tended to be used primarily to add texture throughout much of their set, their keyboardist always stood out when he was leading the melody. Instrumentally, they had a real sense of urgency and vigour about them, with every member buzzing off each other’s energy. However, the band’s enigmatic frontman was arguably their key component in a live setting as he threw his whole body into a theatrical performance that even outshone his inimitable vocals. The set highlight was their third track, a slower number which gently grew into an epic with a massive climax before I even realised it. At this point in the night, I knew it would be difficult to top Drive In Saturday’s set.
Third on was funk group, Chebs; a great change of pace from the rock focus of the first two bands. With trumpets and a funky bass line, they had the potential to win me over. Their vocalist’s charisma leant the band a real sense of fun, but their instrumental side was strongest. Their rhythm section was particularly great with a brief bass solo in their first track providing a set highlight. Their cover of I Feel Good went down a storm, and Chebs easily had the most enthusiastic crowd of the night. For me, the strongest element of the group was the bassist as the band’s sound felt as though it was built around him. Unfortunately, they did not capitalise on their popularity as their set ended after just two songs.
The final band up was All Tomorrow’s Parties who leapt straight into a great disco groove, hugely indebted to the legend, Nile Rodgers. It took a little while for them to relax on stage, but once they were comfortable the vocalist came into her own and the band looked as though they were having a great time on stage. Individual flurries of guitar and melodies showed hints of potential for the band’s future. After two songs, a change of tone from their disco and funk-infused tracks to their next two was jarring as they moved into a more typical indie sound. That said, their final medley was one of the highlights of the entire night as they threaded Express Yourself, Good Times, and Superstitious together to great effect.
It was undeniably a tight heat with great bands across a number of different styles, but I was certain of who I wanted to go through. As it happened, the audience and judges agreed as Drive In Saturday and National Acrobats made it through to the semi-finals.