Live at O2 Academy Leeds on Tuesday, 17th July 2012
In the middle of April this year, just over thirty bands competed in the heats of the third year of the Centre Stage competition, where bands compete whilst raising gratuitous amounts of cash for a well-deserving cause in Martin House Children's Hospice. The prizes for winning such an event are enormous, the main being a slot at both Leeds and Reading Festivals, a real kick-start for any unsigned band to stake a claim in the music industry. As well as this, video shoots, music gear and a design consultation are all rewards for finishing first. Twelve bands were whittled down to contend for the slot at Leeds' biggest music venue, the O2 Academy, which is certainly a prize in itself. The question is: who was going to outperform the others on the night and take home the array of awards?
Glassbody kicked off proceedings with an all-too-familiar recitation of easy-listening indie rock. Think Maccabees with more grit. While a little disjunct at the start, they really developed, progressing as the set went on. Frontman Jared has a tone that people either love or hate, and I must confess that it didn't appeal to me. Despite this, they were all very able musicians, displaying great interchanges in dynamics and entwining fast indie rhythms into fantastic breakdowns. A fantastic stage presence showed competency in performance, and despite a sloppy start, these four lads gave a great performance to start the night, kicking off proceedings with a great bang.
Minimalistic folk-indie quintet Seas-Of-Green now took to the stage, with a high standard to match. Unfortunately, they were nowhere near the bar set by the previous band. A weak introduction was followed by off harmony and poor professionalism. While they improved slightly as their set progressed, they lacked in stage presence, the music lacked development and they were generally static on the whole. They were not tight as a group and I must confess, they had the poorest performance of the night by far, and certainly didn't expect it from a seemingly professional band.
Euthemia followed with a very theatrical rock style, very much reminiscent of My Chemical Romance. They were energetic and displayed a good stage presence. Despite being loose in parts, they improved as it went on, which was becoming a sort of theme for the night. They had a great sing-along element, and worked the crowd up until they were eating out of the front-man's palm. Despite the magnificent crowd interaction, the music was fairly dull, but they put on a great show. Whilst really enjoying their set, I wouldn't buy their records.
Young rockers Distorted Sky took to the stage after an almighty roar from the crowd. This was the band everyone was talking about. At 12 years old, I had barely picked up a guitar, but these kids were playing in front of over a thousand people at the O2 Academy. Therefore, you can't possibly say a bad word about them, and quite frankly, they were brilliant. Front-man Phil had the charisma and stage presence of someone who had done this his whole life, spewing guitar licks left, right and centre. They were all very competent musicians, regardless of their age, and while not really in contention for the main prize, these four young lads are a real promise for the future. They will definitely be returning to rock the Academy again in years to come, and you should definitely keep your eye on them.
Next up, anthemic rockers Traffic Wire. After seeing their performance in the final last year, I was fairly unimpressed with their performance, but this year, it was a different story. A different line-up brought about a welcome change to a darker sound. The band had matured and was playing much bolder and much stronger music than a year ago. They played with so much more substance and energy and produced really emotive and powerful music, and created great tension with minor tonality. Growling low vocals built up the texture, and while their stage presence was fairly static, their excellent music certainly made up for it. Dramatic chord progressions added to the darker elements, and they made great use of rhythmic breakdowns towards the end. This defined new direction left a bold impression upon me, and were definitely in contention to win.
The Scandal now took the stage with a unique take of funk rock. This band has been about for a long while now, venturing in and out of many genres and line-ups, and this current sound is perhaps the tightest and slickest they have ever been. A groovy bass riff initiated the set in a sleazy fashion, building a great crescendo. They had great stage presence, filling out the stage despite only being a trio. The harsh soulful vocals of front-man George ripped through the music dramatically and their use of mellower sections showed capability to experiment with dynamic changes. The driving bass was complimented by full jazzy chords and a rich drum beat. A couple of technical difficulties were had with the bass towards the end, but they overcame them professionally. A fantastic band whom I wholly enjoyed watching, and while the music could benefit from more enterprise and development, they take the lead out of the bands so far by a long, long way.
Metallers Inlaze made their return to the O2 Academy after reaching the Centre Stage final last year. While they failed to impress last year, they had every right to come back much stronger after a year's development. However, they did not. While energetic, they remained fairly unimpressive. The music was tight, but the melodic screamo vocals strayed from tune. The metal genre dwells on instrumental intricacies, such as speed and skill, which Inlaze did not display or show competency in. Their set was very simplistic and basic, and they played poor generic metal. On a more positive note, they had good stage presence, engaging the crowd and making a show of it. Their second song did show off more development and substance and they ended with a powerful, meaty breakdown, but the song was dragged out and lasted far too long, and the band failed to stand out yet again. Much work will be required if they are to truly compete for the top prize next year.
Five-piece The Artists were next up with their funky indie style. They were slick in places, but transitions between songs were jittery and rough. There was no flow between sections of different tempo and rhythm, due to the drummer's poor excessive use of the bass drum pedal, leading to far too many mistakes. They played generic, dull music, and failed to really distinguish themselves. They had a catchy main riff, but didn't do enough with it, and so became highly boring and repetitive. With two guitars and a keyboard, there was great potential for lots of layers and a full tone, but the band failed to achieve this. Vocals reminisced of Alex Turner, but the lyrics were tediously plain. Their closing song was an improvement, but still not exceptional, and as a whole, the band were far from impressive.
Young rock and roll quartet Another Life followed with Black Sabbath-esque tunes. The frontman had good stage presence and plenty of energy, but his vocals were poor on the whole. The music was fairly boring, despite being fairly tight as a group. Their simple music was not up to the same calibre as other bands performing, and the texture was flat, with guitars playing in unison for much of the set. There was very little intricacy, aside from a good guitar solo towards the end, and the music was pretty wearisome. More development and difference would be welcomed, as this young band has potential, but lacked a distinctive quality to set them aside.
Indecisive Crisis was next up, in the form of a female-fronted funky indie-pop outfit. They entered to a tense electronic intro, which really set the atmosphere fantastically. Despite this, they had a very likeable poppy sound and a great groove from the rhythm section. There was lots going on and the music had a great layout. Dynamics were used effectively and while transitions were a little rusty, they were very tight and harmonious. Great growling alto vocals from the front-woman sailed above the unusual Morello-style guitar, and slick rhythms and pauses kept the audience on their toes. Their last song was a slight let down, and failed to match the prior two for tightness and competency, but as a whole, a very enjoyable act making a great impression upon new listeners, and they definitely stand a chance of succeeding in the competition.
Grungey post-rock trio PaperPlane were the penultimate act of the night, and from the off, you could tell they were serious. After a brief ambient opening that set a dark and ominous presence, they kicked off with a huge noise. The whole band was ridden with energy, especially vocalist Jack, who easily switched between glorious falsetto, bassy growling and pained screaming. Effect-ridden guitars sailed in a dramatic and emotive post-rock fashion. The bass lines could be enhanced with further depth and development, but there was such a wall of sound that it was barely noticeable. They were impeccably professional, down to every tee. Three very skilled musicians played as a unit, and I was highly impressed. I will definitely be seeing them again, and without a doubt, they stand out as the pre-eminent band of the evening by a long, long way.
Finally, British Daylight end the night with their brash take on lo-fi modern-day indie-punk. Brimming with energy as usual, new single 'Aprés' retained the same punky brilliance as old material and kept the same old boisterous cheek that has become the epitome of this lively quintet. Their music is simple, but effectively played, remaining fun to watch, due to their great stage presence. Frontman Rob was in fine form, introducing their opening track as 'some French name that I can't pronounce'. The drumming was also highly impressive, and the offbeat rhythms in their final song refilled the dance floor. To pick fault, the music grew repetitive towards the end and a new motif or melody would add to the song. Their post-watershed lyrics felt a little awkward in the setting of this competition, of course centred on children. Aside from this, they put on a great show, and ended the night fantastically.
And just like that, the competition was done. It was all in the judge's hands. However, one band was left to play; none other than previous winners The Mexanines, and what a long way they have come in their star-studded year. They were tight as hell, with every stab exactly on beat. Frontman James made his guitar wail the blues like any other, and sings with such soul and meaning. The rhythm section was fantastic, with Elliot and Rory re-entering after each pause with precision and accuracy. Staccato bass riffs underpin each track, giving a real rhythmic groove, entwining with the driving percussion. There's a big reason why this magnificent band has the prowess to win this competition last year, and such allure, unfortunately, was missing from the vast majority of bands this time around. The competency and sheer skill of this band is unparalleled by the music scene at present, and it would be an utter ignominy if this band do not make it huge in the next few years.
With bands such as Penguin and The Mexanines as previous winners, the title of Centre Stage winners is a prestigious thing, and I felt that only one band matched the calibre of the previous two winners, and that of course was PaperPlane. They were unique and different, but also incredibly skilled and tight and a group. They were undoubtedly brilliant, and would recommend them to anyone. The runner-up is a harder call, as many bands were equally astounding; The Scandal's unique and sleazy funk-rock tunes, Traffic Wire's phoenix-like reprise from the ashes of last year's final and Indecisive Crisis' great vocal capabilities and culmination of many differing styles of music.
However, the judges decided that the best band of the evening was opening band Glassbody, with runners up Indecisive Crisis. Glassbody played out of their skin and fully deserved the victory. They were up against stiff competition, and definitely left an imprint on the judges. I am overjoyed for them that they will be playing Reading and Leeds, and such a huge experience could well catapult them into the heart of the national music scene, and could be the necessary step-up to make it big.
To close, I feel I should add a sort of disclaimer for this review. Each band was only allowed to perform two long songs or three short songs, to comply with timings for the whole night. While this is understandably necessary, especially due to the overrun of last year's final, it is very difficult to truly give each band a fair say and a fair evaluation, as this length of time performing will barely scratch the surface of the band's range of capabilities. As well as this, each band played a completely different genre to the next, which makes judging the different types of music even more difficult, as different styles will appeal to different people in a multitude of ways. Therefore, judging and reviewing such an event is impeccably difficult, and bands shouldn't be disheartened for not being successful, as it is a truly difficult feat to set unlike bands apart. Regardless, Glassbody were very worthy winners of the competition, and will no doubt outplay themselves again at what it sure to be their biggest show to date.