Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Last Thursday night was cold and rainy and Jeff Matika, on a break from Green Day, was at White Water, but the Showcase still drew. And again delivered as strong and varied of a bill as you'll find anywhere. All four of the night's semi-finalists — 3 Penny Acre, Big Boots, Elise Davis and Matt Stell and the Crashers — had strong contingents, even though all the acts save Big Boots spend most of their time in Fayetteville. But at the end of the night the judges judged and sent Big Boots to the wildcard round and Elise Davis to the finals.
Davis, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, led her four-piece band with a practiced air of someone a decade older. Maybe that's because she's been writing songs since she was a pre-teen and performing on big local stages since she was in high school. With a voice that recalls Liz Phair's even when it takes slightly twang-y turns, she sings about the ups and downs of relationships almost exclusively. To bring that to the fore, she introduced ace guitarist Jordan Trotter as her ex-husband, and both played their roles so well — Davis with subtle, but withering glances mid-song and Trotter with a weary, dispassionate look on his face throughout — that several of the judges spent a good bit of their commentary praising the “palpable tension” between the two. A little bit of acting never hurt anyone in the Showcase.
In the opening slot, Fayetteville's 3 Penny Acre showed why it's picked up so much buzz in Northwest Arkansas. The trio rotated lead singing duty, but really came alive when all three joined in to harmonize. All three are expert players — and luthier and guitar and mandolin player Bayard Blain is, as a friend observed, a “certified badass” — but the judges knocked them a few pegs for lyrics that several said failed to separate the band from generic bluegrass.
It wasn't hard to see why Jason Isbell's taking time out of his own busy musical career to produce Matt Stell and the Crashers at the end of the month. Stell's tall and handsome and at ease on stage, and he sings in one of those impossibly pliable voices — blue-eyed soul here, country bass there, John Mayer-style pop-blues everywhere else. And as The Moving Front's Jeremy Brasher told me mid-set, without any slight intended, the Crashers sounded like a “frat-boy Black Crowes.” They, perhaps more than most local acts, were clearly practiced at playing to a crowd. If the band pressed the Down Home angle a little hard for our judges — one table (not of judges) started a drinking game every time Stell sang the name of a state and got fairly snockered — it still showed itself as a band that deserves close attention.
In the midnight hour, Big Boots fought through equipment troubles to deliver an inspired set of indie rock. Mason Maudlin comes from the vocal school of Thom Yorke and The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser, but Greg Spradlin, who's winning the judges metaphor race big time, heard The Kinks: “What if the Davies brothers had a house gig at the White Pig Inn? I don't know, but I'd buy that any damn time.” Other judges praised the band for its intricate song structure and drummer Michael Motley got a special shout-out from joshua for being a singing drummer. Look for the trio to bring it in the play-in round.
Now, to next week. At 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11, once again at Sticky Fingerz, we move to round three, featuring …
Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth Fronted by local stalwart Andy Warr and backed by a two-man rhythm section in Chad Conder (drums) and Johnny D. (bass) of the much lamented The Global Test, the band takes the same time-tested rock strategy that worked so well for Shane McGowan, Craig Finn and the like: big chunky hooks, epic sing-along choruses and self-depreciating lyrics about drinking and girls. The testosterone logged “dudestorm” of a band recently signed on to have their upcoming album released by local labels Thick Syrup Records and Last Chance Records. Furthermore, Travis McElroy, owner of the former, now sports a freshly inked tattoo of Brother Andy's profile on his chest. — John Tarpley
Dangerous Idiots Featuring three dudes with serious local music bona fides — Paul Bowling (Trusty, il libretina), Shayne Gray (Techno-Squid Eats Parliament) and Aaron Sarlo (Techno-Squid Eats Parliament, Slept) — this new pop-rock act's already scored plum gigs opening for The Meat Puppets and a reunited Ashtray Babyhead. With songs like “I'm Cooler Than You” (“I lead a pathetic life, but I know that I'm still / cooler than you”) and a debut album in the works, the band seems primed to become a local must-see. — Lindsey Millar
Flash LaRue Sporting what may be the catchiest band name in town, Flash LaRue sounds like a potpourri of psych-garage influences. Its Brian Jonestown Massacre guitar licks and Vanilla Fudge grooves work alongside picturesque, CSN&Y harmonies, all the while keeping a solid rock posture with a musical spine straight from '90s guitar rock. Composed mostly of veterans from the now defunct Poeboy Society and accompanied by local singer-songwriter Brian Frazier, Flash offers an interesting twist on indie, garage, and rock sincerity. Also, it should be noted these guys have swagger and confidence by the barrelful: Once upon a time, on the band's MySpace page, they adorned their site with the claim “no matter who you are, Flash LaRue has written a song you love.” — John Tarpley
Rah hoWard Last summer, this 23-year-old rapper bested Bobby, Mista Mayhem and a half dozen more local rappers in a hip-hop showcase that Max Farrell and Conduit Entertainment organized. He followed that up in September with the mixtape “Motivation,” hosted by King Akeem. Then, last month, he landed on Shade 45 DJ Angela Yee's “Don't Quit Your Day Job” blog, where she spotlights up-and-coming rappers. Look out for lots of energy and a versatile flow on Thursday. -Lindsey Millar
Read Rock Candy online (arktimes.com/blogs/rockcandy) for more on the Showcase, including song samples, audio, video and post-show reviews.
UPCOMING SHOWCASE SCHEDULE
Feb. 18: Iron Tongue, Outstanding Red Team, Ryan Couron, Underclaire.
Feb. 25: Stella Fancy, Big Boots.
March 5: Bobby, Elise Davis.
Who? Lead singer/songwriter in last year's winner, Velvet Kente.
On Elise Davis. Superb harmonies. Top-notch musicianship all around. Lead guitarist was stellar. Extra credit for being the first act to bring the dance floor to life.
Who? Director of the Arkansas Community Arts Cooperative (ACAC).
On Elise Davis. At times she seems the leader of a slowed-down Strokes, more melodic but with the same choppy bass and driving chords.
Who? Local guitar god and vocalist.
On Elise Davis. Elise and her “ex-husband” guitar player Jordan are a post-post-modern Elton and Betty White. Great Songs. Great delivery. Inspired.
Who? Music critic.
On Elise Davis. When do you ever see an earnest beauty queen songwriter? I'm enamored by her chutzpah.
Burt Taggart, GUEST JUDGE
Who? Local label owner, musician.
On Elise Davis. Started especially strong. Elise's songs are sturdy and the band supports them perfectly.
Good analysis, something completely lacking from the daily newspaper's sports reporters/columnists.
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