Strait Laces, Pocket Billiards, Bomb City 7
There's a definite split in tonight's crowd - the usual set of skinny jeans and trucker caps contrasting heavily with those whose dress sense is more ï¿½"This is England '86" than "Skins". Add into this the odd bewildered Queen's student who has wandered in and the Speakeasy is rammed. It's not exactly the Pound Bar at it's peak, but there's a definite edge in the air tonight.
Bomb City 7 take to the stage and set up a punky racket as MC BeeMickSee pushes his way through the crowd, behooded and bristling with street 'tude. It's agit-prop gutter punk, abrasive and in your face, but the results are frustratingly uneven - at their best it comes across like Asian Dub Foundation, at worst the naively earnest efforts of a teenager with a Rage Against the Machine fixation.
BeeMickSee's flow is consistently firm and venomous while the band's playing is as tight as a pair of 20 hole cherry reds. But the songwriting needs work. On several occasions the band back up their formidable stage presence with a cracking tune and the crowd, as they say, goes wild. More like this and we're talking contenders.
It's only in the past 6 months that Pocket Billiards' hard work has paid off, putting paid to any notion that Belfast is a closed town to any band without the right jeans and haircuts. With blinding shows at the Belfast4Haiti event and Glasgowbury the 9 piece band impress all comers with their energy and good-time tunes.
But tonight doesn't seem to be the band's night. There's a series of technical difficulties that mire the band down, frustrating any attempts to get a sense of momentum going. And with a ska band, momentum is all important - let up on that frantic energy and you lose the crowd.
Mind you, even without all cylinders firing, an off night for Pocket Billiards still rivals many local bands at their best, as street punks and scene kids unite in an alcohol fuelled skank. It might be easy to dismiss their music as clichéd and revivalistic, but none can argue with the sheer 'oi de vivre' on display.
Strait Laces come across as one of several bands who have sprung up in the wake of And So I Watch You From Afar and Fighting With Wire, the only problem being that the band seem to have fallen between two stools, torn between the wilder excesses of post-hardcore and a desire to court the hipster demographic.
The band play with an admirable energy and have the hooks to boot. But every time a tune emerges, it gets battered into submission by another queasy chord progression or swerving signature change. A slow and steady drift begins towards the door and the crowd thins out.
A cover of At The Drive In's One Armed Scissor is rapturously received and sets off a frenzy of stage-driving and other crowd related antics that were conspicuous by their absence until now. It was only with the final song, Where the Wolf Roam, that the band live up to the hype. It's tight, well written and reminiscent of Les Savy Fav at their most melodic. Hopefully this is where the future of Strait Laces lies, it's certainly where their strength lies.