Excitement is not an emotion I usually feel while entering the Lemon Grove – after a series of terrible Saturday nights spent there in Freshers I decided I would never spend an evening there again. However, I somehow found myself walking in this Tuesday in a good mood and looking forward to the night ahead – the first semi final of this year’s Battle of the Bands.
The first band to perform were The Allergens. They describe themselves on Facebook as “grunge-fringed-new-wave-indie-rock” and I think that specificity really shows the level of thought they put into their music. They performed all original songs, with carefully considered lyrics ranging from satirical songs about fascism and Donald Trump (with memorable lines such as “he’s actually got the nuclear codes”), to smaller-scale, more personal and relatable lyrics such as in ‘Going Nowhere’. Every song was completely individual, both in terms of sound and subject – for example, their first song was a punk song (‘9125’) protesting the increase in Exeter’s fees – and across them all they definitely demonstrated the most extensive vocabulary of any band in Exeter. They were extremely well practised and perfectly together and performed by far the most varied set of the night.
Next up were Juicebox, who opened their set with original songs before moving into covers. Their first original was a strong start: a grungy riff with a moody melody always make for a good combination. While their original songs were perhaps a bit predictable they were very well performed and definitely enjoyable. Their covers were also well chosen – in particular, the lead singer’s warm baritone voice really suited the sliding vocals in their cover of ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’ by Tame Impala, though he was a bit pitchy in places. Despite technical issues in the middle, they brought the crowd back on side, the frontman’s conversational attitude keeping us laughing while we waited. They rounded off their set with a cover of the Arctic Monkeys banger ‘When The Sun Goes Down’. While it is risky to do a straight cover without having Alex Turner’s accent the performance went down really well with the audience and left a good final impression.
Third up were The Midnight Ramblers, who got off to a great start with a dynamic cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. The lead singer’s voice suited the song perfectly and the band coordinated very well together throughout. However, in their next few songs, covers of ‘Monkey Casino’ by Babyshambles, and ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ by the Libertines, the singing was split with the lead guitarist, whose voice was a bit shaky at times. As a result of this division, the performance lost its cohesiveness, feeling less practised and a little confused. Overall, though, the band had great stage presence, the frontman in particular full of infectious energy, even playing his guitar behind his head at some points in true rock’n’roll fashion. Ultimately, however, I think they hurt their chances of getting through by not playing any original songs.
Closing off the night was a performance from Chiara and the Vu, a five-piece band led by their singer Chiara Oldano. Their set was a mix of originals and interesting covers, notably a rocky version of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’, and a mash up of ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ by Etta James and ‘I Got You’ by James Brown that got everyone dancing. Their originals were catchy and inventive and got a great response from the audience. The most impressive thing for me was that they were very balanced – bands named after one member can become more of a solo act than a collective, but Chiara, though her voice is undoubtedly stunning, didn’t overshadow the rest of the band. All five of them were extremely confident and comfortable on stage and their chemistry was obvious right from the start. They ended a really impressive gig with (ironically) a cover of ‘Hello’ by Adele, which was more straightforward than their others but gave the audience a chance to sing along – which they did, enthusiastically.
In the end, I think it is right that The Allergens and Chiara and the Vu were put through to the final, but I thought all of the performances were fantastic. While admittedly my previous Lemmy experiences haven’t set the bar very high, it was definitely the best night I’ve spent in that building.
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