We started with somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 local acts, pared those down to 16 semi-finalists and now, after five weeks of competition, here we are. The final showdown. Friday, at Revolution, five acts, none of which sound anything alike, square off to join the likes of 607 and Velvet Kente as a winner of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase.
But before I preview the finalists, a quick word about last week's wildcard round, which had enough talent to stand in for a final round. Flash LaRue claimed the win despite a wave of equipment problems, but everyone showed out. Amazingly, of the four acts, only Bonnie Montgomery has recorded material and hers is several years old and essentially out of print. Get to the studio, people. Montgomery, especially, seems to have the tools — the voice, the songs, the charisma — to be the next must-see local act, something like Chris Denny when he first hopped onto the scene. Stella Fancy's already enjoyed some of that sort of buzz. Hopefully, it'll only expand; their bossa nova-flecked lounge rock is endlessly infectious. And like I said last week, if you care even the least about throwback metal and hard rock, go see Iron Tongue. It's heavy. More on Flash LaRue below.
Unlike weeks past, we shift nights, start times and venues for the finals. So clear your calendar: Friday at 8 p.m. we're at Revolution. It's open to those 18 and older and there's no smoking.
Below is a quick recap of the acts with a case for each to win the Showcase:
Bobby. From round one, the rapper comes with impressive pedigree. His brother, 607, won the Showcase two years ago. Through that victory, Bobby served as Six's hype man. Now Six is returning the favor for his younger brother. In his semi-final win, the MC had the crowd, our emcee and the judges whooping with delight.
Why he'll win: Because he's practiced. He's done hundreds of shows with Six and he knows how to work a stage. Look for narrative, theatrics — something extra. Which, sometimes, is what it takes.
Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth. They roared to a third round victory with deranged, religion-obsessed pop songs folk-punked up.
Why they'll win: Because they don't sound like anyone anywhere.
Elise Davis. In the second round, she led her four-piece band with a breezy confidence and a knack for relationship-focused pop songs. Performing since she was a teen, the college senior sings with a voice that often recalls Liz Phair's. And in the semifinal win, with the withering looks and comments she directed at ex-husband and guitarist Trevor Ware, she had a sensibility to match, even if it was just play-acting.
Why she'll win: She's the only finalist who works within conventional pop structures. She's also probably the only contestant with a pretty voice, and her backing band is tight.
Underclaire. The round-four winner specializes in a dynamic brand of alt-rock that harkens back to the early, respectable days of emo. The four-piece has played together almost a decade longer than its competition.
Why they'll win: Because they'll probably be the most adept band in the finals. And the most anthemic.
Flash LaRue . The wildcard round winner includes members of Notion and The Poeboy Society and specializes in a winning brand of big-tent rock ‘n' roll. A lot of their shifting arrangements sound like contemporary indie rock, but at other times, they're full-tilt Southern rock.
Why they'll win: Because, like I said last go 'round, they're infectious. And even with all the stylistic shifts, they're still the most straightforward rock ‘n' roll act in the wildcard round. Everyone loves the rawk.