"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Second week, same as the first: A big crowd, partial to whooping, packed into Sticky Fingerz to see four really diverse acts — Loch Ness Monster, Nik and Sam, Gina Gee and Whale Fire — play impressive sets at round two of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase. There were songs of all shapes: man-done-me-wrong songs, one-minute songs, songs that rhymed Xanadu with Timbuktu. There were stage antics: elaborate dance routines, crowd roaming, simulated microphone cord asphyxiation, twins. There were props (read on).
All the acts got crowd love, but like last week, as much as the love was spread, our judges judged and Nik and Sam eked out a win.
Like I said on my blog in advance of their performance: Don't mistake the girls from Dover for a marketing gimmick. They're identical twins. They're 16. They're cute. But they're also real musicians. They both sing. They both write. They both play their instruments with skill that belies their age.
Their performance on Thursday was confident and charismatic. They shook their big hair, kicked up their cowboy boots and jumped around like little kids. It was infectious to watch.
Pop music is fickle business. As half a dozen former sure-things in Central Arkansas can attest, there's no predicting who makes it. Still, you can't help, when you hear a song like “Down Home” (“I say hey y'all, but that don't bother me/'cause I know where I come from, and you ain't seen it on no show on MTV”), in all its radio-ready sheen, thinking that it's just got to be a matter of time …
The runners-up kept things interesting: In what'll surely be the most theatrical performance of the Showcase, Loch Ness Monster's Sulac took the stage with a plastic high-top wig, googles and a walkie talkie, which he used to filter his voice on the band's opening song. Quickly, the wig came off, the walkie talkie got discarded and the goggles started drifting up his head. Things devolved, entertainingly, from there. Sulac drifted all around the stage, off the stage in the crowd, on the floor. Throughout, he hollered, infectiously. His mates gave him plenty to work with. Their driving post-punk, and Brian Hirrell's fearsome guitar playing in particular, drew praise from our judges. 607 said that their music “is that super-good kind of loud” and that Sulac speaks “in tongues.” Nicole Boddington said the band “kind of made her nervous, but in an exciting way.” Jason Weinheimer called Sulac the “love child of Iggy Pop and Michael Stipe” and proclaimed Hirrel among Little Rock's finest guitarists.
R&B standout Gina Gee followed and also got raves. Jason Tedford said she was “probably the best [vocalist] in the Showcase so far” but wished she'd brought a live band to back her. She did bring dancers — two identically dressed ladies, who did choreographed moves, and a guy in sunglasses and a hat with a tilted brim, who did some grinding. And she worked the stage well, dancing and singing fluidly and interacting with the audience. Look out for her solo debut in September; it's bound to be the real deal.
The new-ish indie-pop band Whale Fire closed out the evening with a smart set. Tedford gave them props for their “fun, energetic, well-crafted pop songs” and said he thought they'd “make a great record.” He and other judges also appreciated that the band alternates between two lead singers and often works in three-part harmony. 607, in typically oblique fashion, called it “early autumn music” and said it “makes [him] wanna make out with somebody's mother.”
Here's the lowdown on Thursday's show, which like all semi-final rounds, is at Sticky Fingerz beginning at 9 p.m.:
Four on the Floor. This hard rock quartet evolved out of years of stage experience. Mike Dougan (drums), Al Martin (bass) and Charlie Page (guitar) had played together for nearly 20 years when they found “their musical soul mate” in vocalist E.C. Haynes in April 2007. The new addition paid almost immediate dividends. Last year, the band won $10,000 at the Isle of Capri Casino Regional Battle of the Bands.
Style Guide. There are new bands in the Showcase and then there's Style Guide. Thursday will mark only the electro-pop act's second performance, and it's first under the name Style Guide. At its first gig, the trio went by Bad Balance, until it discovered, according to beat maker Jeremy Brasher, “the N.W.A. of Russia” already had dibs on the name. Even with only one show under its belt, there's buzz, in part because of Brasher's reputation in local music (he leads the Moving Front), in part because there are two ladies, Lydia Washburn and Erin Lang, singing, and in part because seeing electro-pop live is such a rarity here.
The See. This indie-rock trio of Tyler Nance (drums), Dylan Yelenich (bass) and Joe Yoder (guitar, vocals) formed last summer after Little Rock natives Nance and Yoder returned home from St. Louis and Phoenix, respectively. They've played out often — White Water, Downtown Music, Vino's, On the Rocks. And they're finishing up a debut with the American Princes' Will Boyd that they're aiming to release in April.
Sean West. You might recognize this name from your inbox. A tireless self-promoter and concert host, the soul man started performing live in the summer of 2007. Since then, he's released one EP and performed out constantly. In the coming year, he plans to release another EP, a full-length and a mixtape.
Who? Singer/songwriter, producer, jingle writer.
On the second round: These girls can sing and play — no doubt. Would love to see them expand beyond formulaic Nashville songs, though.
Who? Local music critic.
On the second round: Energetic, confident. Poised for pop-country greatness. Can seem them performing on bigger stages. Expert harmonies. Ready for the radio.
Who? Last year's winner.
On the second round: [The song] “Down Home” is the business. Nik's voice is cool. Sam's musical presence is the real deal.
On the second round: These girls definitely have a future! Good songs, great voices, regardless of their age. These girls can play, too! Will be very interested to see how far this band goes.
Rob Bell guest judge, feb. 12
Who? Riverfest board member, keyboardist/vocalist.
Claim to fame: Founded the Arkansas Music Tent at Riverfest and recorded two essential albums with the Easys.