Like last year and the year before, I'm proud — and confident — to say that this year's winner of the Musicians Showcase is doing something utterly singular in Arkansas music, something that should be filling up venues not just in Central Arkansas, but all across the country. Start getting used to this unwieldy name: Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth.
Because if what happened at last Friday's coronation concert at Revolution is any indication, the three-piece is already on its way. When the band finished its 30-minute set, the crowd, which filled Rev near capacity, didn't so much cheer as roar. Other finalists earned hearty, extended applause, but when I took the stage immediately after Brother Andy's set, minutes went by before the crowd let me speak.
There's a visceral appeal to be sure. Friday, the band traded the cut-off jean shorts and unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts it wore in its semi-final win for a White Stripes-meets-Li'l Abner get-up: red union suits (long johns) and coon skin caps. Aside from the costume, onstage Brother Andy (guitar, vocals), even with his massive frame and lumberjack beard, strikes a laconic pose. He's barely expressive. He plays his guitar with a casual, almost tossed-off ease. Then he starts hollering, and he makes the hairs stand up on your arms. It's raw, barbed a bit — but not abrasive — with plenty of wild-eyed theatricality. Something like Tom Waits doing his best Frank Black. Meanwhile, Johnny D. bounces around maniacally and Bad Chad furiously bangs his kit, but their sense of time always remains acute.
The band would be memorable for all that, but it's the songs that put BABDM over the top. They are, as I said after the band won in the semi-finals, elegant pop songs at their core. But within that standard chorus-verse arrangement, Brother Andy wallows in a dark, mostly teen-age portrait of the South, where sex and ghosts intersect with love and religion. It's powerful stuff and powerfully funny more often than not.
Props, too, to the other finalists. Elise Davis offered the same winning stage presence and knack for writing a relationship-directed pop song that she did in her semi-final win. Everything came together for Flash LaRue, the first band to ever play the Showcase three times. The six-member act improved threefold from its second-week appearance to the finals. Bobby was the only finalist who delivered an entirely new set. This one came with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, and drew high praise from the judges. In the night's final spot, Underclaire's front man Mike Mullins gamely battled through the lingering effects of the flu. If he hadn't told me beforehand, I wouldn't have noticed. The alt-rockers are surely among the city's tightest acts.
So thanks again to all of our sponsors, especially Sticky Fingerz and Revolution for hosting. To Maestro and Timmy for running sound and, most of all, for everyone who came and supported local music.
Make sure you see Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth at Riverfest.
Who? Lead singer/songwriter in last year's winner, Velvet Kente.
On Brother Andy. I love the way they consistently turn audiences' expectations on their heads.
Who? Director of the Arkansas Community Arts Cooperative (ACAC).
On Brother Andy. This is the best band in Little Rock.
Who? Local guitar god and vocalist.
On Brother Andy. Viking rock. Power to the People music perfectly executed. The total lack of irony in the direct and profane takes them over the top.
Who? Music critic.
On Brother Andy. Everything they do makes me feel like I'm 17 and I'm going to live forever in a ball of exploding light. They prove once again it's important to be fun and anthemic.
Who? Local musician, founder/booker of Riverfest's Arkansas Music Tent.
On Brother Andy. The real deal. An adrenaline shot to Arkansas music. What a treasure.