The first round of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase couldn’t
have gone any better. Even with post-Van Halen hangovers and amidst bad
weather, a large and lively crowd came out, the judges stayed attentive
throughout and all four acts gave strong performances.


Here’s a rundown:

The Running Back, the young indie pop band from Arkadelphia,
kicked off things admirably. Lead singer Alan Thomas had been battling
a cold, but his vocals came through full and clear. Our judge Davis
Clement thought the band had its “finger on current pop trends without
being derivative,” while was “pleasantly surprised” by
the horn the band brought out and impressed by its “versatility.” The
band’s “Cotton Lungs” demo suggests promise; I’ll definitely have my
eye on the Running Back as it releases a proper full-length and
continues to play out and about.


Riverboat Crime, out of North Little Rock, followed
impressively. Lead singer Josh Stoffer is sick on the slide guitar, and
he’s got really big, bright pop vocals. The band, which has only been
together five months, played it fast and loose and loud. The crowd dug
it. Guest judge Zach Holland nominated RC for Sticky Fingerz house band
and suggested they had the best band name in town, while Ben Jones and both appreciated the group’s energy. Jones liked the band
enough he even hit them up for a possible gig at Riverfest. You’re
likely to see more of Riverboat Crime after this gig.

Singer/songwriter Justin Bank went on third with a solid set
of rollicking songs about girls. Nick Devlin accompanied and as usual
played virtuosic guitar. Maybe this is a pairing that can happen
regularly? Davis Clement suggested that “it’s hard to stand out as an
acoustic singer/songwriter, even with such a polished folksy tenor and
clever lyrics.”


It was 607‘s night. The local rapper pulled out all the stops
— opening with a drama mask obscuring his face, performing his
“palingraph,” a rap that made sense forwards and backwards (he unfurled
a large sheet with the lyrics so the audience could follow along),
sampling Britney’s “Toxic” and standing tall on the risers.

The crowd ate it up. It was a unanimous decision by the judges, who
graded the semi-finalists on song quality, originality, musicianship,
showmanship and crowd response, with a higher percentage of the score
focused on song quality and originality.


The first 50 through the door get a free CD featuring all 16 semi-finalists. Plus, there will be giveaways all night. 


Here’s who is on tap this week:

The Reds. We named the band’s debut album, “Economy of
Motion” (Max Recordings), the fourth best local album of last year. Led
by veteran Johnny Mac, the Reds (“like colors, not Communists”)
specialize in a winning brand of spare, bass-heavy pop. Along with Mac
on bass, Graham Cobb (il libertina, Five-O) plays guitar and Jason
Thompson (Hector Faceplant) pounds out the drums. The band performs in
public less than it might’ve years back, but you can still catch them
every month or so. They play Sticky Fingerz again on Monday, Feb. 11.

Bryan Frazier with Action Figures. A longtime presence
locally, Bryan Frazier has built his reputation on ethereal, tuneful
indie-pop. For the Showcase gig, he’ll be accompanied by John Davies on
bass (Cate Brothers, Michael Burks Band), Jai Lambert on lead guitar
(the Freds, Acoustic Pagans) and Steve Lane on drums. Frazier plays
solo gigs frequently; you can catch him again on Friday at Lulav.

Notion. In our review of Notion’s self-titled debut album, we
said that lead singer Shaun Hartman “possesses one of the most
powerful, chill-inducing voices this city has ever produced.” Eschewing
current rock trends, the band moves easily from hip-hop influences to
drum circle chants to electro to classic-rock-shaded material.
Accompanying Hartman on guitar is Noel Moniot, with Brian Wolverton on
bass and Sean Lyndsey on drums. Notion kicks off a regional tour on
Feb. 28, with a performance at George’s Majestic in Fayetteville.
They’ll also travel to Memphis and Springfield, Mo.

Epiphany and One Night Stand. From a one-off collaboration
between local rapper Epiphany and a crew of jazz/soul/funk musicians,
this vibrant outfit has become one of Little Rock’s most in-demand
hip-hop outfits. With local diva Gina Gee singing the hooks, the
collective has dozens of shows under its belt and is currently in the
studio working on new material. You can catch Epiphany (who heads up
Conduit records) performing with Gina Gee at the H.A.P.S. Live event on
Saturday at Windsong Performing Arts (see the To-Do List).