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Here come the finals 

Jonathan Wilkins earns the fifth spot.

JONATHAN WILKINS: Round five winner.
  • JONATHAN WILKINS: Round five winner.

With a big mess of dreadlocks wrapped in a bun and wearing jeans and a beat-up T-shirt, Jonathan Wilkins kicked off his round-five-winning set on Friday with his best song. It's called “Black Folks,” and he sings it in a deliberate, almost talking blues style. That lends the lyrics a refreshing matter-of-factness, which helps when you're singing things like “Black folks invented country music, rock 'n' roll” or “Elvis Presley never meant shit to me.”

Say what? Yep, he's trying to provoke, but not simply for provocation's sake. Think less polemic and more history lesson — a quick correction to the slights to black folks throughout pop music history (later, he makes reference to offers of cars and clothes instead of song royalties). And lest you question his background or motivations, he gets there first. How's this for a hook? “I'm your local, militant, middle-class African-American, born in the dark ages of the Reagan administration.”

That's Wilkins in a nutshell. Dry, confessional, confrontational. But you could miss all that and still bop along happily. He's a deft guitar player, with a knack for rhythmic lines. And he's supported by one of the baddest-ass rhythm sections in town. Matt Floyd, on loan from Smoke Up Johnny and still looking cooler than you, sounds perfectly at home in the no frills folk-bounce and, of course, in the raucous rock. And Will Boyd, the American Princes expert guitarist, might be the best drummer in town.

As usual, the other acts showed out, too. In the opening slot, the Weisenheimers were brash and freewheeling. They announced songs with explanations like, “This next song is about poop.”

Their pop-punk had folks pogoing up close to the stage and throwing devil horns during guitar solos. Guest judge Brad Williams aptly summed up the band: “Flying V's, flying middle fingers and rock 'n' roll in your face!” And Jason Tedford called “Dirty” Sean Causey the “best shirtless drummer in the showcase.”

In the third slot of the night, North Little Rock's Riverboat Crime offered a set no one from last year's Showcase would remember. But like last year, lead singer and guitarist Josh Stoffer showed off his estimable pipes and nimble guitar work. Nicole Boddington praised the band's “passionate performance” and “theatrics.”

The highlight of the set came when Stoffer called me out for describing the band, in my preview coverage, as “big, bright unironic pop-rock with hints of blues.” He wanted credit for more than hints. And after he laid his guitar flat and teased a thick blues groove out of the band's “You're Gonna Burn” with his slide, he's forever more “big, bright unironic pop-rock colored with heaps of blues.”

Special note: Stoffer's generously offering up the band's debut album, “Walking Shoes,” for free download on Rock Candy this week.

In the midnight hour, the hip-hop band Apples and Spades closed it down impressively. The young quartet — bass, drums, guitar and a rapper — all donned business suits. Their set, however, was not merely a workmanlike performance. In only their second, maybe third, concert, the band showed an impressive command of live hip-hop, which, perhaps more than rock or any other genre that marries live instrumentation with vocals, needs space and a firm handle on dynamic shifts to work. And rapper Maxx, just 19, offered charisma and style by the truckload.

Give the band and the rapper a dozen or so more shows and you'll be looking at a real force in local music.

 

 

Before we move forward, how 'bout a look back? By the numbers, the Showcase thus far: Five weeks. 20 bands. 6,741 words written in preview or review. Zero prizes given away for trivia questions billed as “hard” or “sort of hard.” Ten tickets given away to see either dancing horses or bucking bulls. Five back-up dancers. Ten women. Three separate guest appearances by guitarist Sixstring. One band described by judge 607 as “MILF metal.” One cloth dummy, dubbed Barry Manilow, hung in effigy. 27 guitar solos. And more than 10 hours of live and local music.

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