Introduced twice as "Space Monsters," the opener at last Thursday night's round of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase was in fact called Space Mother. The five members of the band met originally in a laundromat, and aim, they say on Facebook, to sonically guide us "through a cosmic sinew of inquisition, tribulation and resolution." I was open to this.
As you might expect, they played what judge Derek Brooks described in his ballot as "kick-down-the-front-door rock," further characterized by judge Joe Holland as a "two-headed monster spitting out simultaneous highs and balls." Judge Shayne Gray noted, "I would like some weed & lazer lights," next to which he drew a smiley face. Guest judge John Willis asked, rhetorically and a little ambiguously, "Is this really happening?" Judge Mitchell Crisp, for her part, complimented the bass player's hat.
Next up was local synth-punk band The Casual Pleasures, who sang with a glam rock snarl and used auxiliary percussion and sax to practically No Wave effect, and who Gray pretty reasonably compared to Oingo Boingo and The Cure. Willis called them "smart and unexpected," and Holland deemed them the "most dynamic band so far." Speaking for all of us, Crisp asked, "Well who doesn't like a sexy saxophone?" The answer is almost no one. (Except Brooks, who worried the sax might occasionally be "overpowering.")
Fayetteville indie rock band High Lonesome, who named their band and new album after Southern literary legend Barry Hannah, followed with a set that reminded Crisp of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and of "sundresses and all the windows open and dancing around the kitchen while you mop with a bucket of citrus fruit juice and an organic vinegar concoction found on Pinterest." (She was a fan.) Willis found that they demonstrated "for the elucidation of everyone present the age-old maxim, 'Less is more.' '' Holland called them "eclectic," but seemed distracted by his poorly considered decision to dip Stickyz's chicken fingers in Jameson ("Not Good," he wrote, somewhat surprisingly).
It was a particularly close call this time, but the last band of the night, American Lions, won the day with what Willis described as "wailing Southern guitar" and what Holland called "the best front man in the Showcase." Brooks thought they "expressed the most emotion" out of all the bands in competition, and Gray wrote that they were "like T-Rex meets The Band." By their set, as Mitchell Crisp noted in her ballot, it was very late and the night was cold, which made their achievement all the more impressive. "If aliens land in Arkansas and want to know what American rock and roll is," Crisp wrote, "this is the band to take them to see."
Here's the lineup for round five, which will be at Stickyz starting at 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26:
Pine Bluff singer-songwriter Katie Johnson aspires "not just to make feel-good music but to make feel-everything music," as she puts it on Facebook. As influences, she cites Led Zeppelin, Babyface, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera, Coldplay and the Backstreet Boys. Accordingly, she makes soulful piano-rock with pervasive glissando and primary color emotional cues.
Comfortable Brother is a Fayetteville indie rock band central to the Arkansas weirdo art-rock label Let's Talk Figures. Featuring four members of Conway's Don't Stop Please, these guys will hopefully bring a much-needed sense of humor to the whole Showcase enterprise. They're an inspiring mess — expansive slacker rock built from weed and imagination and boredom.
Michael Leonard Witham
Little Rock songwriter Michael Leonard Witham has a backstory that involves dumpster-diving in Shreveport about five years ago — he found a Yamaha acoustic guitar with no strings, he says, and taught himself to play it, at which the songs "almost effortlessly poured out." According to his Facebook profile, he has "been called a 'songwriter's songwriter,'" and specializes in "raw" vocals and songs that "defy categorization." He released his debut, "A Scandal in the Violets," last year.
Enchiridion is a Little Rock metal band that started four years ago in Searcy, possibly named after the Enchiridion of Epictetus, a second century manual of Stoic ethics. They make progressive metal with bleak imagery and song titles like "The Earth Dies Screaming" and "Onslaught."