Cheap Date 3

David McLaughlin takes in the best of NI with Cheap Date 3

There is just enough time to nip home for a power nap and some chow before hurtling back to the Black Box to once again sample the many and varied treats on offer in the festival’s final local band showcase, Cheap Date 3.

Bangor upstarts Kowalski are charged with the task of igniting the evening’s fuse and they do so with a panache and style that belies their obvious youth.

Operating very much within the tight confines of an indie-rock blueprint, they bring enough good taste, songwriting skill and a wealth of tricksy ideas to the table to avoid being just another compound of mop-topped, jangle-pop nobodies.

It’s no surprise Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody has heaped great praise upon them recently, as their set goes off like a mini-fireworks display, each song a bundle of fizzy, fidgety bursts of energy.

Songs like ‘Sunshine State’ display an understanding of dynamics many could do well to take note of. A poised and masterful showing from one of NI’s most exciting new bands.

Three Tales attempt a similar mastery of dynamics but simply lack the charisma, colour and artistry to do so to any great degree.

The trio offer a gothic, countrified post-rock template but often their songs fall into the slow and intense meets explosive power divide and after a time sound a tad derivative and formulaic.

A partisan audience seemingly believes otherwise. Only when they play a pastoral song 'about birds and mice' that switches the mood with a skipping, picking rhythm do they show more than just a fondness for quiet/loud binaries.

Desert Hearts suffer no such limitations. With the recent addition of a second six-stringer, Martin Henry, the quartet are an even more storming, incendiary live beast than before.

Their dark, alt.rock twitches and swivels, screams and cowers with chameleonic perfection. Played live, tracks from their second album, Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki, are snappy and insistent, while old favourites like ‘No More Art’ still spill over with spindly, giddy force.

It’s an all-too-short set from one of NI’s longest-running bands.

Another of the local scene veterans close the show in Panda Kopanda, making a long awaited comeback following frontman Gavin Reid’s moonlighting with Clone Quartet.

Their 2006 EP, Ocean Of Fire, showed a band ready for the world, with fists clenched and gritted teeth, but sadly only seems to have won favour among the already converted.

Their set tonight bears some of the brunt of a frustrated recent past, for here is a band who can, on form, do great things with several sparkling indie-pop trinkets in their armoury. But for some reason, they seem perennially stuck in a state of stasis.

The atmospheric, Death Cab-isms are still in evidence and with some new songs fleshed out live they aren’t an endangered species just yet, but with a predominant feeling of over familiarity about tonight’s set, there’s work yet to be done.

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