The winner of Friday night's showcase finals, and by extension the winner of the whole prestigious and remunerative proceedings, was Hot Springs band Ghost Bones, who were thrilling to watch and easy to like. They played coiled and neurotic mutant-disco, punk rock unafraid to incorporate the notion of rhythm. They were great. They are great. They remind me of Pylon, who is nice to be reminded of, and they sing songs about "diving to the bottom of the ocean." I'll give judge Mitchell Crisp the last word, because she's earned it: "This band is for throwing TVs out of three-story windows, sleeping under dirty sheets in a room lit by Christmas lights, drunk on cheap wine with a boy you just met but have seen around for a long time."
The prize package for the Showcase includes money as well as the following: a set on the main stage of Riverfest, a spot at Valley of the Vapors, a set at the 2015 Arkansas State Fair, four hours of recording time at Blue Chair Studio, a $350 gift certificate to Jacksonville Guitar, a T-shirt package from States of Mind Clothing, a gift certificate to Trio's Restaurant and a celebration party (and drink named after them) courtesy of Stickyz and Revolution. A drink! I don't know what will be in the "Ghost Bones," but I somehow suspect it will include gin.
"We need more smoke," said the front man for Open Fields, the Little Rock psych-rock band who played the night's first set. There was already quite a lot of smoke. They were setting a mood, though, playing droning non-melodies in a kind of hallucinatory orchestra tune-up, building up slowly while the fog machine rebooted behind them. "We just want you all to know that we love you," he said.
For most of their set, their drummer was more or less invisible, drowned in smoke effect and neon lighting that made the stage look like the aftermath of an explosion. They played slow, sad, satisfied '60s pop, with jarring abstract solos that didn't stop so much as just drift off and become something else. The night's guest judge, singer Sean Fresh, called them "angelic." "I find myself getting lost," judge Derek Brooks wrote. "They sound like walking through Berkeley, Calif., in 1970," judge Mitchell Crisp added. "I'm inspired to quit my job and live off champagne and popsicles."
Here are some terms and phrases used by various judges to describe the band Becoming Elephants: "jazz group," "prog rock meets Pat Metheny," "the gift of music," "angst, sorrow, vindication," "a real crowd pleaser," "God created and crafted them," "smug," "Anglo-Santana." There is some truth in all of these. The band is far and away Faulkner County's best instrumental metal group featuring a saxophone player.
Crisp compared the experience of listening to American Lions to "dating a guy who has already graduated when you're in 10th grade." Judge Joe Holland, front man for last year's Showcase winner Mad Nomad, wrote, "I love how they showed up, said, 'This is our fucking rock-n-roll,' and put it in our faces to digest however the fuck we saw fit." The rest of the panel was equally appreciative, to say nothing of the audience, who seemed on board.
The crowd reached peak enthusiasm for Little Rock metal band Enchiridion, seeming to double its numbers and telegraph excitement through sheer volume. The band was big and brash and voluble and angry and impressive. Fresh claimed they had won him over before they even started playing. "By this point," reasoned Crisp, "everyone is drunk, rowdy and ready for some metal."