Damn Bullets fire away first 

AT Musicians’ Showcase Semifinals
All Thursday shows
at Sticky Fingerz, 9 p.m.
FEB. 1: Cooper’s Orbit, 4X4 Crew, Beau Nixon, Reverburritos
FEB. 8: Jeff Coleman and the Feeders, Latture, Rigby Fawkes, Sideshow
FEB. 15: American Years, Daybreak Bandits, Dean Agus Band, Rein
FEB. 22: The Global Test, Highway 5, Sean Rock and the Toltecs, Calcabrina
First week winner: Damn Bullets
Finals are March 2 at the Revolution Music Room

Except for what’s become my annual tumble off the Sticky Fingerz stage, Round 1 of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase seemed to go off without a hitch. The room began filling up to capacity right at 9 p.m., and the four bands performing warmed to the challenge with solid shows.

Damn Bullets, four guys who met in Conway at college (three at UCA, one at Hendrix) and who now live in Little Rock, were nothing short of sensational with their rockabilly-meets-country-meets-rock style of music. It’s not simply rockabilly. It’s not bluegrass. It’s not rock. It’s a presentation I haven’t seen before around here and one all their own. Damn Bullets will be reckoned with again when the five semifinal round winners convene at the Revolution Music Room on March 2 for the finals.

It wasn’t an easy win for Damn Bullets, though everyone I talked with conceded they were the best. Paul Sammons’ trio, which he calls the Black Sheep, had the bad luck of (one) playing on the same night as Damn Bullets and (two) following them. That combination, especially performing somewhat “unplugged” after a foot-stomping, tight 30 minutes by Damn Bullets, would have been tough for anyone to overcome.

But keep Paul Sammons, who is from Bryant, in mind when you’re looking for strong musical, acoustic-driven shows. He’ll be playing soon at Grumpy’s Too. The musicianship of Sammons and his trio, including a female bass player, was outstanding.

I hope, too, to be hearing more from Conway’s Smitten — three young women and a guy drummer who changed tempo throughout with some acoustic, some electric songs. They rocked hardest, though, on the final number, “First Day.” They have a stage presence that draws you in, though nerves may have gotten them early in front of a raucous crowd. Smitten is only going to get better.

Leading off the showcase was Conway’s Stone Mountain Crew, which also had an acoustic-drive, modern-rock sound, a little like Barenaked Ladies at times, and with lyrics mostly geared to the legalization of the forbidden weed. Hence, the name of the band, we suppose. They were fun.

But the night would belong to Damn Bullets. A symbiotic connection seemed to exist between guitarist/vocalists Joe Sundell and Paul Morphis throughout their 30-minute set. D.J. Bennett on the upright bass and Graeme Higgins on the drums provided a solid and steady backbeat. You really need to see these guys, and you can via TV on Feb. 8, when they’ll appear on KATV’s “Good Morning Arkansas” during the 9-10 a.m. hour. Also, about nine minutes of video footage of the first night is available on the Little Rocking blog at our website, www.arktimes.com, thanks to Roland Gladden of the AT staff.

The opening night isn’t supposed to come off this well, and with such a turnout. Everyone from Sticky Fingerz’s Chris King and sound man Mystro and the staff to the Point’s Jeff Allen to the Times’ advertising crew left upbeat, and if we can take the stairs from now on instead of jumping off the stage, it should be a fun five more weeks.

This week’s lineup starts with Cooper’s Orbit, the group project of 2006 finalist Chris Henry, an amazing guitarist. Second in the show is the only hip-hop act in the Showcase, the 4x4 Crew. Beau Nixon, who performed in the Showcase at Juanita’s two years ago, will be third up, followed by the surf-rock sounds of Tim Moritz and his Reverburritos. Moritz performed as a solo acoustic act in the Showcase a few years ago.

Showtime is 9 p.m. and admission is $5. Tell your friends. You’re not going to see better local original music on one club stage anywhere. Semifinals continue every Thursday through Feb. 22.

Concerts announced of late include country star Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert (March 10), Evanescence (March 25) and, this week, Rod Stewart in the round (Friday, April 27), all at Alltel Arena. The concert season gets its kickoff in Little Rock next weekend, with Bob Seger at Alltel on Feb. 10 and the Goo Goo Dolls at Robinson Center on Feb. 11. Checking out the Goo Goo’s home page, I had forgotten what great alt-rock songs they put out in the 1990s, and their new album sounds great. It’s a show I want to see.


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