After five rounds, 19 performances and probably more chicken fingers, beers and shots than we should dwell on, the 2012 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase came down to the five finalists: Don't Stop Please, Laundry for the Apocalypse, The Holy Shakes, War Chief and Joey Farr & The Fuggins Wheat Band.
In the end, The Holy Shakes' pummeling, rock 'n' roll-flavored hardcore prevailed, though a solid argument could have been made for any of the others. It was a diverse lineup and to boost an overused expression from the sports world, every band brought its A-game, with tight playing, energetic performances and charisma to spare. Throughout the night, folks in the crowd commented to the Times staff about the ridiculously high number of excellent bands in this small state.
Don't Stop Please got things under way and wasted exactly no time revving the energy level up to 11, with more shimmying, shaking, swaying, sharing of instruments, tossing of hair, trombone freakouts, saxophone wails and good-time tunes than any other Central Arkansas band currently kicking up a racket.
"These guys/gal are undeniably talented," wrote showcase judge Clay Fitzpatrick. The band looked "well-rehearsed and confident," wrote judge Cheyenne Matthews. "Super solid." Guest judge Kelley Bass called DSP "amazing, frenetic, musical-chairs rock."
Laundry for the Apocalypse was up next and matched DSP's frenetic pace with the ultra-catchy buzz-saw pop gem "Rob Zombie's 'Halloween 2' " followed by the mournful yet imposing "Murdertarp for the Apocalypse." Guest judge Lizzie Burnham wrote, "I hope they laid out a tarp, because they just murdered me in the best possible way." Judge Sammy Williams thought the band played "with a passion missing from a lot of local bands" and they transported Fitzpatrick "back to when I loved music for the first time."
The Holy Shakes played third, with frontman Bill Solleder swinging a small lamp the way Fred Astaire swung a cane. The Shakes also brought a big crowd, and that crowd brought panties. Lots and lots and lots of panties of nearly every configuration, which they rained down on the band, sort of like if Misti's Low-Priced Ladies Undergarment Barn out on Hwy. 84 had exploded.
Burnham loved the swagger and "throwback to '70s/early '80s punk." Fitzpatrick was impressed as well: "This band kills it every time. The intensity automatically throws me into a state of mind I can't contain."
War Chief's roots- and country-inspired modern rock was up next. The quartet had impressed the judges in the semifinals with their professionalism and radio-ready sound, and they kept that up Friday. According to Burnham, War Chief had "an uphill battle after Holy Shakes, but they are handling it extremely well." Bass was impressed by "super tight, gritty rock 'n' roll," with a "lead guitarist bordering on rock-star status. Great energy and melodies." Williams noted that he can't describe why he loves the Old 97s, "so I won't even try to describe why I love this band. Give this band a record deal ... NOW!"
Wrapping up the finals were Joey Farr & The Fuggins Wheat Band, who are without a doubt one of the most technically proficient bands to ever play the showcase in any of its two decades, hands down. The term "shred" doesn't even begin to do justice to Farr, whose band "is like the love child of Dave Grohl and Steve Vai," according to Williams. They're "musicians' musicians" who "would blow up Midtown," Fitzpatrick noted. Farr & Co. seemed indeed likely to blow up Midtown or pretty much any other venue they played with their insanely virtuosic blues-rock, which was Fuggins Wheat, indeed.
All in all, this year's showcase was an utter blast. All the elements that make it fun were there: great performers, a spirit of spontaneity and unpretentiousness, and diverse crowds getting turned on to bands they might not otherwise see. The Times offers sincerest thanks to all the bands, fans, sponsors and our gracious hosts, Stickyz and Revolution. Here's to another 20 years!
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