I'm starting to fear we programmed these semi-final rounds a little too well.
For the second week in a row, the night's winner made the cut by a razor-thin margin and even the last place band wasn't far behind on the scoreboard.
Ultimately, energetic, up-and-coming indie rockers Sea Nanners took the night after a dynamic set of recklessly sweet, driving anthems that sound right in place in the taste-making musical corners of the blogosphere. In fact, it's hard not to see Nanners' planned mid-April release of their debut 7" ("Queen of the Brodeo") as a knock at that very door. The sound — driving, jittered and tethered around vocalist Thom Asewicz's wildly inventive, contorted vocals and melody lines — would be right at home alongside current critical darlings. No doubt there are similarities to be found between Sea Nanners and whatever noises are "in" right now, but it seems Thursday night's winners have sprung from entirely different reference points than, say, Cloud Nothings or The Drums. The strong overtones of '80s-era Springsteen and college rock progenitors The Feelies give the band a unique voice that sets it apart from its peers, national and otherwise.
Speaking of unique voices, the nudie-suited 10 Horse Johnson, country and western's answer to Tenacious D, opened the night with a torrent of songs about kissing Ned Beatty, the poor Reno-ite who ended up on the wrong side of Sue's bullet and guitarist Dover's wife. All replete with shoutouts to "Prozac Nation" author Elizabeth Wurtzel.
Self-avowed cover band Brown Soul Shoes traded in the soul standards it's known for and took to a set of originals with spectacular musicianship. Big, fat props are due to frontman/multi-instrumentalist Michael McDonald, whose booming, gospel-inflected vocals not only won over the crowd, but were praised by the night's panel of judges.
Also winning over the judges: Ezra Lbs, the endearing '90s slack-rock throwback act that nearly edged out the night's competition despite playing in front of a thinned-out house. In fact, judge Andy Warr's notes on the band gradually became a string of single words and exclamation marks. ("Damn! Rockin'! Kick! Ass! I wanna steal them!")
Round four is 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24, at Stickyz. The lineup:
Mandy McBryde and the Unholy Ghost. For years Mandy McBryde has been a steady source of acerbic, witty updates on traditional country music, but now the local songwriter is taking a shot at electrified country rock with help from her new backing band, the Unholy Ghost. But her sly humor still takes center stage with songs like "Loretta," which sees the Coal Miner's Daughter as a guiding spirit during a catfight at Midtown Billiards.
Think: A smart-assed Loretta Lynn for the Facebook era.
Thunder Thieves. Truth be totally told, we know precious little about this band from the Pop. 314 village of Perry, Arkansas. We're not even sure we're spelling "Thieves" the intended way. (Their application is under "Thunder Theifs") Over the phone, our contact is coy and on the internet, the band is un-Googleable. But with songs as cool and vitriolic as the lo-fi washed, angular "Forget My Taste," we're more than happy to embrace the mystery.
Think: If Cage the Elephant was indie-blog cool. (Or The Strange Boys.)
Ginsu Wives. Probably the most established band of this year's showcase, Ginsu Wives have spent years honing their unhinged dance (post-)punk sound and branding it with disturbing, sometimes hilarious iconography that's too N.S.F.Life. to print in these pages. Fiercely experimental and usually in some degree of undress, if your mind isn't blown after their show, we promise your jaw will be dropped.
Think: Drugs. Tom Tom Club, Public Image Ltd. and Funkmaster Flex doing drugs and filthy things to each other on drugs.
The Safe and Sounds. Filling a last-minute opening in this week's line-up, The Safe and Sounds hail from Conway and, like the college town itself, offers a great mix of jam choogle alongside decidedly indie hooks and instrumentation. Currently, the four are putting the finishing touches on an upcoming album, expected to drop April 1.
Think: If Modest Mouse drafted Trey Anastasio instead of Johnny Marr.