Elise Davis and "husband' Jordan Trotter. Photo by Brian Chilson.
Again we're going to make the snow the fall-guy for a late post.
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 fine 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.
3 Penny Acre. Photo by Brian Chilson.
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.
Matt Stell. Photo by Brian Chilson.
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.
Big Boots' Mason Maudlin. Photo by Brian Chilson.
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.