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Too bad nobody's taking odds on the Showcase, 'cause somebody could've made some cash on round four. The Chicklettes, the fiercely punk rock girl group from Little Rock, might be the upset of the contest. The band played for half an hour with middle fingers raised, bowing to no one and pissing off nearly everyone. Sophonda Mayhem, (right) harassed our camera guy, sexy-massaged herself with an apple on a knife, gave a heartfelt shout-out to Lux Interior (the Cramps' recently deceased lead singer), stripped down to fishnets and hot pants, hung Barry Manilow in effigy and generally behaved like the ideal punk rock front woman: All the girls wanted to be her (or hated her guts), and all the guys wanted to make time with her, but were way too scared.
Like most punk rock, the Chicklettes lean heavy of style and attitude, but that doesn't mean they forget music and lyrics. The latter, when you can make them out through Sophonda's bark, come ready-made for chanting along. Like the Ramones — simple, catchy — but stridently feminist. (The morning after, I couldn't shake the chorus of "PMS-Y": "I'm PMS-Y! / You Should Stay Away from me!"). The former might sound repetitive, but it's easy to fall for its visceral appeal, too.
Like previous weeks, the runners-up were no slouches. The pop-rock duo Midwest Caravan opened with sly songs about crazy ex-girlfriends and youthful unease. The band's best songs featured leisurely verses — better for guitarist and lead singer Sammy Williams' bright pop vocals to shine — and punchy choruses. Drummer Joie Lyle was "very dedicated to the rhythm," noted judge 607.
But for all the band's skill, the judges, particularly those who play in bands, longed for a bass player. Williams turned the non-traditional line-up into a joke: Between every song, he made "Hi, we're Midwest Caravan. We're from Little Rock, Arkansas" introductions, appending some reason the band's bass player couldn't make it. Bass player or not, keep an eye out for this band. What little they've recorded sounds impressive.
Rap vet Rockst*r followed. He saw the writing on the wall, and instead of relying on a backing track fed through the soundboard, he brought DJ Discipline and his turntables to the show. That, and Mista Mayhemm serving as hype man, livened the stage show up for the MC, who's been a charismatic stage performer in his own right.
Our female judges were all about him. Guest judge Shannon Boshears declared Rockst*r's "Fresh" a hit. Ditto, said Nicole Boddington (actually, she said "'Fresh' is the jam"), who also said she had to fight back the urge to dance.
The rapper was fresh off a promo tour to Atlanta and New York, which he said were productive. Maybe Boddington and Boshears are onto something.
Good Time Ramblers followed with a set of what 607 called "highway music." That is, country rock focused on drinkin', wild women and misadventures. Front man John Lefler has a natural charisma and whisky-soaked voice, and his bandmates, all of whom play in the Munks, are consummate musicians. Alex Piazza's intricate slide work stood out especially for me. Jason Weinheimer called drummer Brooks Browning "refreshing — free from the tyranny of the snare drum."
The band's sophomore release, tentatively titled "Nashville Skyline," should be out soon. It's high on my list of anticipated local albums this year.
Here's the lowdown on Friday's show, which like all semi-final rounds, is at Sticky Fingerz beginning at 9 p.m. (though, unlike the past three weeks, it's on a FRIDAY):
The Weisenheimers. This pop-punk act is made up, as Paul Peterson has said in these pages before, of kindred strummers and a shirtless drummer. That's guitarists Mark and Micah Wyers and drummer "Dirty" Sean Causey. Plus, bassist, chief songwriter and lead singer Karle Johnson, who formed the band in the spring of 2007, while playing in Josh the Devil and the Sinners. Late last year saw the release of the band's eponymous debut, which was jointly released on Thick Syrup Records and Last Chance Music.
Jonathan Wilkins. Originally from St. Louis, this singer/songwriter first cut his teeth on Central Arkansas's vibrant folk punk scene in Conway, where he schooled at Hendrix. After releasing a spate of homemade material, he recently put out "Highway Robbery," a full-length he recorded with Will Boyd of the American Princes. It's available via Last Chance Records.
Riverboat Crime. This three-piece from North Little Rock came together in July 2007 after lead singer Stoffer booked a gig to help raise money following an automobile accident. The pop-rockers last year released their debut "Walking Shoes" and have since been supporting it on stages across Central Arkansas.
Apples and Spades. Led by young rapper Max Farrell, who performs as Maxx, this fledgling live hip-hop band features members of Ginsu Wives and Epiphany's band One Night Stand. A product of Hip-Hop school, Maxx last year celebrated his high school graduation with the release of "The Rise of Maxxism," which you can download for free on Rock Candy. He's currently in school at Grinnell College in Iowa, but making the long haul on Friday to perform.
Who? Singer/songwriter, producer, jingle writer.
On the fourth round: When I throw it all away, I'll go looking for Sophia [AKA Sophonda]. Oh yeah, Chicklettes rock.
Who? Local music critic.
On the fourth round: "[The Chicklettes were] raw, real, unapologetic. Not typically my thing; in fact, it could've become off-putting, but they remained likeable, and I found myself rooting for them."
Who? Last year's winner.
On the fourth round: Most personable group. I LOVE SOPHIA WITH ALL MY SOUL.
On the fourth round: The most dangerous band in the Showcase! You can't get more honest punk rock than this band. Sophia may be the best front person this year. Fast and furious!
guest judge, feb. 27
Who? Singer/songwriter, guitarist.
Claim to fame: Fronting Arkansas's honky-tonk heroes the Salty Dogs. Playing guitar in pop-rock heavyweight Big Silver.