Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
"Make some noise for Budweiser! Make some noise for cold hard cash!" So said host and Cher impersonator Ambrosia Bordeaux at the start of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase finals, which wrapped up Friday night with performances by Peckerwolf, John Willis, Mad Nomad, Duckstronaut and John Neal Rock & Roll. The crowd dutifully made some noise. "It takes a lot of people to make the Rev Room feel full," said Joe Holland, singer for the night's winners Mad Nomad, near the middle of their set. "And tonight it feels full."
Peckerwolf kicked things off with a typically pitiless and destructive performance. Their strategy, I assume, was to ensure that all we heard the rest of the night was a distant ringing in our ears. Pretty smart — and it almost worked. "Dude screams well," said judge Stephen Neeper, while guest judge Grayson Shelton commended the musicians' "excellent choice in bolos." Judge "Big" John Miller was evocative in his praise, writing that during their set, "I picture glowing molten lava flowing down the mountain and over the town below ..."
Ambrosia, who for the record was dressed as Cher from the "If I Could Turn Back Time" video, next asked that we "make some noise" for John Willis, which we did. Willis started his set with a short a cappella intro, the sonic inverse of Peckerwolf's set, and kept things at a consistently softer pitch throughout, presenting what judge Bryan Frazier called a "floral arrangement of pop, rock and show tunes."
Duckstronaut gave another fascinating, duck-themed performance with washboard ambient effects interludes and the most energetic dulcimer playing I've ever seen. Grayson Shelton called them "hard hitting and emotional," and Stephen Neeper appreciated the "crazy melodic noise." "Big" John Miller wrote that their set "sounds like a space train ride with the Pixies, Primus, Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper and a psychedelic duck that plays dulcimer. What's not to like?" Bryan Frazier was thinking along oddly similar lines, writing, "A duck-shaped starship slashes through space. Its intentions are sweet, but it encounters mood swings along the way."
The closing band, and in Grayson Shelton's view the "best dressed" as well, was John Neal Rock & Roll, who "Big" John Miller brilliantly noted combined the "earnestness of a country preacher, the coolness of an early rockabilly star and the smoothness of an aged Mexican tequila."
"That's some high-powered shit!" wrote Shelton of the night's winners, Mad Nomad, who played third. (Shelton also jotted "I got drunk" in parenthesis at the top of his judge sheet.) The other judges agreed, and seem to have anticipated the win. "This has been my favorite band," wrote Stacie Mack, while Stephen Neeper called them "by far the BEST band in the 2014 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase."
Another thing more than one of the judges pointed out was that they actually remembered Mad Nomad's songs from their earlier set, which seems crucial. I remembered "The Crowd," the first track from their album, "Black Out." If someone were to make a Little Rock compilation circa 2014, this would belong at the very end of it. Their brand of working class post-hardcore is ideally suited to tapping into the whole neurasthenic teenage complex, and "The Crowd" finds them at their best. Their win is well-deserved.
The prize package includes a spot on a main stage at Riverfest, performances at the Arkansas Sounds Music Festival and the Valley of the Vapors festival, T-shirts from Section 9, gift certificates to Trio's Restaurant and Jacksonville Guitar, four hours of recording time at Blue Chair Studio, a photo shoot with Arkansas Times photographer Brian Chilson and, most importantly, a drink named in their honor at Stickyz and Revolution, who will also throw them a party celebrating the win.