It was toward the end of the third round of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase that we realized we’d been had. Onstage were backup dancers, one in an orange fox costume with a hood and paw-gloves and the other in some demonic red and black get-up with a long horn protruding from her forehead. The bass player wore a sailor’s cap, and the singer played an electric green guitar. He spoke occasionally in a jarring fake British accent and said things like “It is plainly obvious to me that y’all need to chill the fuck out.” I was on my fourth or fifth beer and the whole thing was as awful as it sounds.
What we realized — or what others realized and then relayed to me — was that this band, The Flameing Daeth Fearies, shared exactly the same members (minus the colorful wigs and neon, mall-punk vibes) as a band that competed in the first round of this year’s competition as The People’s Republic of Casio Tones. They entered the contest twice and then lied about it. Apparently, they believed that some elements within the Arkansas Times editorial staff held a grudge against them, and in their defense, this is absolutely true. Anyway, neither band won.
The night started off strong with the Chris Alan Craig Band, which judge “Big” John Miller, in his notes, wrote, “sounds just like the Chris Alan Craig Band!” Judge Stacie Mack was reminded of Bon Jovi, which makes sense to me: Craig is an earnest performer who shuts his eyes during guitar solos and frequently points to the ceiling. At one point he held up his drink and said, “That’s wine in a cocktail glass,” which impressed me. The greatest moment of his set, though, came when he asked the crowd, “Who’s getting laid?” as his girlfriend, out in the audience, started handing out Hawaiian leis. Craig then pulled out a ukulele and said, “I wrote this song on the beaches of Hawaii.”
Fayetteville’s Flight Machine was up next and led off their set by claiming, “We’re from North Korea.” I don’t know what their deal is with North Korea, but they’re consistent about it: Their online bio is cribbed from Kim Jong-il’s Wikipedia page. Also, the lead singer wore goggles. Judge Bryan Frazier noted “obvious nods toward Devo & Talking Heads,” and said they “could’ve been the live band at the ‘Weird Science’ house party,” which I’m betting they would take as a huge compliment. They closed out with the announcement that “A clean Korea is a good Korea.”
The night’s winner was Little Rock band Mad Nomad, which looked angry and sounded angrier. They had to switch out guitars mid-set because, as singer Joe Holland mumbled into the mic, “Jesse broke a damn string.” John Miller was serious about his endorsement: “This is your new rock show, people,” he wrote. “As Grandpa used to say, ‘Tight as Dick’s Hatband.’ ” I don’t know what Grandpa meant by that, but I can guess. “Mad Nomad walked into the Times Showcase,” judge Stephen Neeper wrote, summing up the general sentiments of the crowd, “and said, ‘This is how it’s done!’ “
The semifinals continue with round four at 9 p.m. Thursday at Stickyz. Here’s a preview:
The Talking Liberties
Whatever else happens, there will be no better song titles Thursday night than those by Little Rock’s The Talking Liberties, whose latest EP, “Don’t Trust the Humans,” includes tracks with names like “Between Some Lions” and, incredibly, “Paul Reubens Holding Wasps.” The band, fronted by trippy-synth mastermind Wes Acklin, specializes in widescreen glow-stick rock indebted to MGMT or The Flaming Lips, and claims to exist “solely to groove your bones and melt your brain,” a mission statement I don’t think they mean to sound as threatening as it does.
Prepare to sober up a bit for the bluesy alt-rock group Crash Meadows, who hail from Hot Springs and, according to their Facebook page, have opened for The Spin Doctors and Joan Jett. More impressively, they were recently featured in a well-reviewed travel book called “Follow the Money,” which started out as an article for The Guardian: Purely by chance, a couple of years ago, they hosted a British journalist named Steve Boggan as he attempted to track a single $10 bill across America for 30 days. They got the 10 bucks as payment for a gig and held on to the bill for a weekend before singer Dean Agus mailed it to a friend in Illinois to pay the dues for his fantasy football league.
The Machete With Love
Like a more laid-back Rage Against the Machine, The Machete With Love often open their rock-rap songs with samples of news broadcasts and rap about things like Syria and Scooter Libby. Rapping isn’t quite the word though — what they do sounds more like R.E.M. on “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” impressively crowding fast-spoken syllables into a loud-quiet-loud rock structure. They are first and foremost a loud, gripping rock band, with harmonica and guitar solos (sometimes in the same song) and a righteous, mocking tone, something that comes through in lines like “everyone’s guilty, just give me someone to fire at.”
Last up is the new project by Dangerous Idiots founder Aaron Sarlo and his fellow Laundry for the Apocalypse member (and expert washboard player) Adrian Brigman, and with a name like Duckstronaut I predict great things. They are committed to this duck thing, too: At their first show, at White Water Tavern in October, drummer Bryan Baker wore an eerie duck mask and Brigman occasionally set aside his washboard for a duck call. In their own words, the band sounds like a “haboob-force zydegasm with pearly electric dulcimer beauty.” That’s a lot to parse, I know. Two things it might help to know: One, a haboob is an enormous dust storm; two, Duckstronaut frequently features an electric dulcimer.