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Now for the finals! 

The semi-finals conclude in the Arkansas Time Musician Showcase.

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If you missed the culmination of the semi-finals, you blew it. Everyone else was there. Once again it was a mostly full house. For the first time in a while, we were Belvis-less. But there was more dancing than ever before — stage dancing, wife-of-lead-singer dancing, Times-staffers dancing, hilarious not-so-much-dancing-as-grinding. The judges remained vigilant. One dude spent 30 minutes near the stage not watching the band, but staring at the judges, trying to divine the scoring early on, I guess. We're taking a breather this week. Next week, make plans to attend the finals starting at 8 p.m. Friday, March 7, at Revolution. Now to a rundown of last week's competition:

Winner Kyoto Boom put on as strong a show as I've seen in a long time in the second slot. (A reminder: My opinion doesn't factor in at all to the judging.) I think you'd be hard-pressed to point to a local lead man with stronger vocals or more charisma than Scott Cook. Or someone who can play eighth notes on bass with one hand and keyboard with the other. All the dudes in the band are vets of awesome local bands of days gone by, and it shows on stage. They're tight and polished and they play with a lot of swagger and energy. Far from the alt-country-ish work he put in with Mulehead, Dave Raymond uses his guitar percussively, shreds occasionally and sometimes goes full-tilt skronk, all within the confines of the song. Duke Boyne kicks out precision beats. There's a long history of post-punk revival bands in Little Rock. Few, if any, have been as broadly appealing as Kyoto Boom.

Natural State opened. They're definitely a young band to watch. They do a heavy, steady-grind acid/classic rock kind of thing with three different lead singers, who sound decidedly different, including the always-welcome singing drummer. The best moment of the show was when a floppy-haired redheaded kid, better known to his fans as Willie from the band Cephus, ran from the crowd and started wailing into the mic. While stomping and crazy dancing, with hair flying. Here's to the unexpected. Catch Natural State again on Saturday, March 8, when they play at Juanita's.

I'm all about the 4X4 Crew's approach to hip-hop. They're old-school. They perform with a DJ, without edit tracks and with a consistently positive message that rarely gets hokey. They can rap a lot, too, particularly the group's leaders, SJ and Burna Boi (who you can hear on 96.5 FM weekdays from 6 p.m. 'til midnight). They kept the crowd hyped in the third slot of the night. SJ sermonized, awesomely, about how being from the street doesn't necessarily mean you're up to no good. Everyone put A's up for their single “Tell Yo Mama (I'm from Arkansas).” It's catchy as hell. Look out for 4X4. There's not a crew around more driven.

Damn Bullets closed down the night. They were edged out by Kyoto Boom on the judge's scorecards by just one point. That's a big time bummer for the band and its legion of fans because the Bullets put on a fine, fine show that probably would've won it for them another night. They do a kind of old-time, freak-folk — a strain of Americana that draws on the acid-infused folk music of the '60s. A lot of their songs have that brisk, auctioneer-talk pace. You can fall into the Damn Bullets circus on Friday at White Water.

UPCOMING SHOWCASE SCHEDULE

March 7: 607, Epiphany and One Night Stand, Brian Martin and the Circulators and Kyoto Boom square off in the finals at Revolution, 8 p.m., $5 adv./$10 d.o.s.

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