live review ~ jagermeister battle of the bands semi final ~ villanova junction, robocobra quartet, treehome, plague artists ~ pavilion, belfast

The infamous 'Battle of the Bands'  competition is in most circumstances, a contentious issue. Disappointment and frustration can very easily transform itself to tales of foul play, tampered votes and the dreaded 'cliques' culture that has destroyed many a promising music scene across Britain. This years Jägermeister sponsored re-issue is, thankfully, another example of Belfast's progress as a nation of compassion, as each band and artist present encourages eachother throughout the rigorous process. This week's second semi-final through up another intriguing blend of talent, from the angst driven alt-rock of final act Plague Artists, to the wondrous desolation of Robocobra Quartet.

 It certainly promised to be a memorable evening...

Despite the good natured grace of our proud music scene, it would be naive to assume any of these semi-finalists would be willing to open the bill in competitive terms. Unfortunately that task fell to Villanova Junction, a blues-inspired, power trio seemingly on a mission to alter the indie-pop landscape of their hometown Bangor. Songs like 'Kill The Beast' show a band not short on confidence nor riffs, a potentially manic combination with the right development. With their brash Americanisms and complete disregard for anything but the song they happen to be playing at the time, Villanova Junction are one song about beer away from capturing the ill-fated Trucker Diablo's crown as future veteran headliners of The Diamond Rock Club (possibly forever).

Following Villanova Junction's tidal wave of DIY rock came the mysterious Robocobra Quartet, a band who don't demand your respect as much as they command it. Fierce, spoken word rap compositions are floated over a peculiar mixture of engrossing bass grooves and avant-garde horn sections. Drummer Chris Ryan is the complete performer, charming, self-assured and incredibly knowledgeable about his passion. All this from behind the confines of a drum kit and yet he remains the unquestionable frontman, a rare feat indeed. Robocobra Quartet's Sargent Pepper-esque peculiarities spark distant memories of obscure indie legends Nosferatu D2 . To say much of their set conjured thoughts of what a mental breakdown may sound like is absurd. Though it may be the most accurate way to describe this exciting anomaly. 

To capture a near capacity crowds attention from the opening number is an extraordinary accomplishment. To do so at the young age of funk-heavy trio Treehome is something else altogether. Never compromising their resolute mantra of entertainment at all times, Treehome's light hearted grooves are made all the more engrossing through frontman Ben Flavelle-Cobain's pure charisma. Soulful riffs take a translucent back seat to the 80's inspired melodies that dominate much of the local lads set, though they remain a valuable weapon in their arsenal. Groove-drenched original 'Keep Our Loving Discreet' remains a highlight, while a cover of Bill Withers classic 'Just The Two Of Us'  invoked more sing-along optimism. The maturity of this band will only continue to make the right impressions as they progress.

Sadly for final act Plague Artists, the usual safe haven of the last performance slot proved more of a burden than a positive. As Treehome disembarked, so too did many of their large entourage and as such, much of the crowd. This minor-setback didn't detract them from their goal however, as they bombarded those who remained with a barrage of American influenced alternative-grunge. Opening with a song taking more than a hint of inspiration from Foo Fighter's 'Monkey Wrench', Plague Artists continued to maintain their adrenaline and focus throughout a set in increasingly difficult circumstances. Punchy and affirming, you got the feeling this was a band more suited to the grungy confines of Fountain Street's Voodoo than The Pavilion's alt-roots. In all, Plague Artist's could do no more and while no one seemed overly determined to test that theory, it was an admirable performance.

The beckoning end of the evening saw Robocobra Quartet and Treehome advance to the final. A deserving result in a difficult group. Through the scene of handshakes and congratulations, there may have been a slight undertone of frustration; but even so, the success of this competition is undeniable.

You can hear Robocobra Quartet & Treehome competing in the competitions final on Wednesday 6th August, alongside singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan and alt-rock act The Titanics.

Taylor Johnson 
For more information on each of the acts, click the links below⁞►

Villanova Junction: Facebook.
Robocobra Quartet: Facebook, Official Record Label & EP
Treehome: Facebook
Plague Artists: Facebook, Bandcamp, Twitter
(The unrelenting passion of Robocobra Quartet saw them progress to the final...Photo's courtesy of The Pavilion, Belfast)

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