Next Big Thing Semi Final #2 @ Rosemount Hotel, Perth (21/7/2007)

It was a full and curious crowd that filled the Rosemount Hotel, eager to see the eight bands partaking in the second semi-final for WA’s Next Big Thing competition, of which only two bands would make it through to the grand final. Winners The Howlin’ Novocaines and Will Stoker and the Embers made it through to the finals, but not without tough competition.

First up were the young Captains of King, winners of this year’s Ampfest competition. The three-piece produced a tight 20 minutes of dirty rock which carried a sense of deliberate discomfort and intrigue, but seemingly not enough to grasp the growing crowd’s devout attention. Young bands hate hearing it, but for their age, they really do show potential. They just need more experience and to captivate their audiences better.

Next up, The City Watch brought an almost ridiculous amount of instruments with them that made every inch of stage space so important. Delivering a fantastic indie-pop set that featured trumpets, percussion, strange keyboards, an additional acoustic guitar for a song and even a piano accordion over the top of the more standard rhythm section, the five-piece looked as though they were having the fun of a primary school music class, and yet played like established musicians. Unfortunately the plethora of instruments left some of the band seeming a little uncomfortable as they’d hold back from the all-too-easy overplaying. None the less, they were impressively tight, knew what they were doing and produced fairly catchy tunes that went down well. If they keep doing what they are, Perth may very well come to love these boys, if only we didn’t already have Institut Polaire...

Third was Skyrocket Fights, who seemingly stood above all the other bands of the night. It was surprising they didn’t get through. The quartet have managed an emotionally rich and real sound that breeds the intensity of suppressed and sour rock with eastern and almost Persian undertones. Unlike many rock bands that simply throw themselves into full energetic momentum, Skyrockets teased the audience with parts that hinted at an eruption but never brought it about too soon. Like a train gaining speed, the emotional drive inside their tunes never exploded too soon and when it did, it hit really hard and was delivered with unquestionable authenticity. The band really played these songs like they owned them. It was only in the last two songs of their set that this –  “train’ of intensity seemed to run low on steam and find a regular speed. The feature of this band is how they get up to momentum, not what happens once they are there.

The fourth band of the night was The Howlin’ Novocaines, one of the selected two winners to go through to the finals. And for a band so appreciated in a competition titled –  “The Next Big Thing’, it certainly seems like they borrowed a lot of their sound from somewhere else. Their ‘70s rock sound seems to be doing well for them, but how it can be considered original remains the mystery. Perhaps 30+ years is long enough for sounds to be rediscovered and considered original. Despite their suspiciously derivative sound, the band are a very hot four-piece with endless amounts of energy, vocalist Corey Marriott throwing himself around like child with a red-bull addiction clutching to a tambourine. Their strength is definitely in their live show and their ability to captivate an audience, but their victory still came as a bit of a surprise in the context of the other bands for the night.

Celladore, the fifth band, sounded like Dido with a dark and almost gothic twist. Elegant, graceful and vibrant, the two males and three females that form the band performed with much enthusiasm. Unfortunately they didn’t connect with the audience, and hardly even looked like they were trying. It felt more like the audience was observing a rehearsal than watching a live show.

The Sneaky Weasel Gang made up for Celladore’s weakness, spreading soulful grooves throughout the Rosemount Hotel with an impressive array of swing, blues and reggae. Their name fits them perfectly; a sneaky bluesy band only lacking in cigars, shades and fedora hats. Of course they didn’t stay too near to that old mafia-style jazziness, branching out to richer reggae sounds with a more contagious happiness in their sound.

Will Stoker and the Embers also made it through with their reasonably impressive delivery of quirky and experimental tunes made all the more captivating by the insanity of Will Stoker’s stage presence. It seemed though that their psychotic live show sacrificed the clarity of their music which came through a little muddier than other bands, making the judges decision to send them through to the finals a little surprising again.

Closing off the night was Generals and Majors, who performed solidly but struggled to outdo the many impressive bands before them. The last slot of the night really can be a curse in that sense.

The grand final on July 28 at the Rosemount Hotel will now include The Chemist, Harlequin League, The Howlin’ Novocaines, Will Stoker and the Embers and the winners of the regional final held this Friday, as well as one wild card band selected from the third places in the semis.