Ultimately, Round 3 of the 2013 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase came down to showmanship. That's the category that The Revolutioners dominated, and it's what earned the loud 'n' libidinous hard-rock quintet a spot at the finals.
If you've ever witnessed a performance from the group's frontman Phil Houston (who also plays in Showcase alums Se7en Sharp), that probably won't surprise you. Houston was all over the place: stage left, stage right, standing on the monitors and the drum risers and probably a few other places too. Plus, dude can sing his ass off. The band has AC/DC-esque hard rock down cold. The dual-guitar raging of Ben Richman and Jackson Hagerman kept the riffs a comin' while the rhythm section of Danny Praseuth and Lance Berry anchored it all down.
Kicking things off was Little Rock's Freedom Bureau, a quartet that offered up a set of ambling, shambolic, folk-tinged rock. Anybody into early Sebadoh, Pavement, Silver Jews (particularly "Starlite Walker") will find much to dig in the Bureau's sound.
Showcase judge Grayson Shelton was into the band's "very '60s garage-pop," noting, "I want to book these guys to play a clambake on Venice Beach in 1966. And I want a time machine."
Guest judge Travis Hill wrote "jangly pop ... dig the clean guitar lines." Judge Mandy McBryde called Freedom Bureau "smart rock. It spans so many decades I can't even figure out where it came from. I like their moodier stuff." Judge CT wrote, "I like the change-up of styles."
Up next was singer/songwriter Gwendlyn Kay, a native of Shirley (Van Buren County) who brought a helping of heartfelt country to the proceedings. She performed with guitar accompaniment by Glenn Parish.
Every single judge noted the quality of Kay's songs, and was blown away when she announced that she'd recently turned 21.
Guest judge Travis Hill wrote, "Fantastic commercial country songwriter. Definitely has a future in the business. Can't believe she's 21." Judge Mandy McBryde said, "She's definitely got some marketability and a few hit songs."
CT wrote, "Very good, nice songwriting, lots of attitude in her voice. Hell yeah for small towns." Grayson Shelton noted Kay's "good stage presence, very confident." He wrote, "Good storytelling. She can carry a show with good songs and crowd interaction."
Closing out Round 3 was Mothwind, who brought deep-space mega-riffage and crushingly awesome loudness to end the evening, all anchored by bassist Jeremy Partin's four-string raging.
Grayson Shelton wrote that drummer Kevin Rains "is a beast!" Mandy McBryde was impressed as well: "This drummer is amazing!" Shelton also appreciated vocalist Mike Mullins' singing style. "Mike's voice helps break it up. It's definitely a harder set, but it adds a different dynamic. Some metal bands get really into being as hard as they can be. Kudos for keeping it fresh."
Guest judge Travis Hill called Mothwind "The kick in the teeth I need!" CT wrote: "Very driving and heavy, yet uplifting."
Here's what the judges had to say about last week's winner, The Revolutioners:
Guest judge Travis Hill: "Fantastic frontman. I love rock 'n' roll."
Grayson Shelton: "Hell of a stage show! I'm a sucker for a good rock 'n' roll band. Velvet Revolver meets Buckcherry."
Mandy McBryde: " 'I wanna feel your friction baby,' is a rock opera I wanna see."
CT: "Arkansas's answer to Buckcherry. Very good, very professional. Arena Rock, if that was still around."
Round 4 lineup
Miles Rattz: Miles Rattz, a.k.a. Michael Chavez, makes lo-frills bedroom pop that charts the same warped, weirdo waters as Ariel Pink was wading around in back when he got started. Chavez's "Fought Songs" EP is four tracks that recreate the feeling of lying on the couch with two stereos in two different rooms playing two different R. Stevie Moore cassettes at the same time, but you're too, uh, compromised to get up and turn one of them off. "Hotel Staytion" is a dose of Nilsson-in-a-funhouse-mirror pop charm.
This Holy House: The members of This Holy House are no strangers to the Showcase, having made it to the finals in 2011. At that point, the band was still a trio, but they've since added guitarist/vocalist Jordan Ahne to the lineup. Oh, and they also released a full-length album and won the Back Room to the Main Stage competition last year at Vino's, which netted them a cool thousand bucks and a spot playing the Arkansas State Fair. Check out "Put Your Arm Around My Shoulder" for some soaring guitar rock that recalls Jeff Buckley and Crazy Horse in equal measure.
Peckerwolf: This Little Rock quartet isn't even a year old yet, but these dudes clearly know how to kick up an eardrum-bruising yet memorable ruckus using guitars and amps and drums. Check out the sweet intro to "JT Boner," which tastefully cribs sweet bits of riff-gold from early Black Sabbath and melts them down to combine with the groove of The Jesus Lizard to create an alloy of rock that's a great soundtrack for getting up to no good.
Terminus: Heavy, prog-informed post-rock is the name of the bidness that Fayetteville trio Terminus is in. If your ears are open to the metallic crushingness of such bands as Baroness, Isis, Mastodon and the like, don't miss these dudes. Check out "Hierophant," for a muscular, raging workout that shows off the group's chops without seeming showy. Oh, and check this: they're in high school. They're in high school and their tunes could stand up with any number of bands twice their age.
Tom & Hebron: Brothers Tom and Hebron Chester have a spooky-good grasp on '70s singer/songwriter rock. Think Elton John, The Band, Wings, Emmitt Rhodes and the like. Check out "Ridge Runner," which hits so many classic FM sweet spots. They must've spent hours with their parents' record collection, and you can hear how fully they've absorbed those dusty grooves. This is a makeup show for Tom & Hebron, who had the flu a couple weeks ago. They're feeling much better now, presumably.Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the number of band members in Peckerwolf.