When I was growing up, my folks would take me to a restaurant called the Royal Fork. It was a smorgasbord -- or borgasmorg, as my dad called it -- and definitely a godsend for a portly kid like yours truly. My parents just had to shell out a meager sum, and I could shove as much crap into my mouth as my gullet could handle. Not wanting to miss out on a single item, I'd invariably try everything that was offered, sampling a dozen or more entrees -- but never giving myself the chance to savor any one dish in particular.
Kind of reminds me of my experience at last Saturday's Westword Music Showcase. This year, we had more than sixty performers on ten stages, and my goal was to catch as many acts as humanly possible. I managed to hit about two dozen, in the process collecting plenty of moments worth remembering and others I'd like to forget -- even if it means watching the Disney Channel for the next six months to scrub certain images from my mind. For example, if I never see Machine Gun Blues' Jermaine Smith in a tight-fitting, red-and-black, zebra-striped Speedo again, it will be too soon. I caught sight of the bassist in his mansock, fresh from a turn in the Bender's dunk tank, early on during the Railbenders' set. But even this frightening display couldn't detract from the Railbenders' fantastic performance, led by Jim Dalton's velvety-smooth baritone and bolstered by Jeremy Lawton's stellar turn on the pedal steel. Fortunately, Smith was fully clothed when he and his bandmates later tore through an equally impressive performance of guttural blues rock at the Acoma Center.
MGB's set was preceded by the always-entertaining Mr. Pacman. Clad in multi-colored jumpsuits and customized motorcycle helmets, Avery Rains manhandled his keytar while his flyboys turned in a glitchy rendition of "Star Hustler." Meanwhile, across the alley at Milk Bar, P-Nuckle effortlessly channeled the Sublime streets of Long Beach -- despite being squeezed onto a postage-stamp-sized stage. Props to Savage Henry and Starfuzz, the other acts I saw there, who were also good sports despite the limited mobility and challenging sight lines.
The most confounding moment of the Showcase took place upstairs, at Shelter. After attempting a halfhearted jump kick at the end of Three Miles West's set, guitarist Todd Divel inexplicably threw down his guitar and jumped through the curtain at the rear of the stage. It didn't seem like an angry gesture, nor was it particularly Pete Townshend-esque: Divel simply brought the ax up to eye level and then dropped it. "Oh, he does that at the end of every show," explained frontman Russ Christiansen, who was relieved that he and his crew made it through at all with a brand-new drummer. And as it turned out, although Divel's guitar looked like an expensive Les Paul, he built it himself, and it's pretty heavy-duty.
Buckwild took the stage after Three Miles West and was in fine form. "Bad news travels fast in a cowtown," crooned Buck vocalist/guitarist Rex Moser from behind a pair of mirrored aviators. As Moser and company ripped through their possessed, high-octane outlaw country, folks continued to pile into Shelter. And once they got there, they didn't leave. If I hadn't been on the clock, I probably would have stayed put, too -- Shelter's bill that day was just freaking amazing. Ten Cent Redemption more than held its own, as vocalist/guitarist Rhett Lee broke in a new guitar and churned through songs from Worst Plan Ever, the group's latest disc. Hands down, though, the finest performance I caught that day belonged to Drag the River, which performed after Ten Cent. Drag's potent brand of country and Midwestern -- which Jon Snodgrass and company have dubbed their sound -- was brilliant, from the whiskey-soaked, husky vocals of Snodgrass and Chad Price to Spacey Casey's tasty fretwork. These fellas are now officially my favorite band after Vaux. It doesn't get better than this.
Although it does come close from time to time. Joshua Novak, crammed into the tiny corner stage at the Bannock Street Garage, delivered a compelling performance. Ditto for Angie Stevens, who gave me the shivers. "What a great lineup," South Park honcho Matt Fecher said to me during Novak's set. "I haven't seen anything yet that I didn't like."
Amen to that, brother. Although I'd expected to be underwhelmed by at least a few groups, I didn't catch a single bad gig. When Mane Rok threw down with his namesake crew, Maneline, on Vinyl's patio, it was obvious why he's up for Best Hip-Hop MC -- even though he's not really a "solo MC," as he pointed out. At the Acoma Center, Laylights made a case for why it's a band to watch in the coming year. Over at La Rumba, Damon Wood was on fire with Harmonious Junk. Under the Drone and Love Me Destroyer did their best to destroy my hearing at Two AM. The levels were deafening. Evidently, the sound man didn't grasp the fact that it's no crime to sacrifice some volume for tone. Get that under control, and Two AM would make an absolutely kick-ass music venue. Back at the Acoma Center, Photo Atlas had people out of their seats and moving their feet.
Through it all, I kept returning to the Outdoor Stage. The Erica Brown Band sounded as polished as ever, while Love.45 -- just back from recording sessions at London Bridge Studios in Seattle -- tried out some of its new songs. Born in the Flood, which I've always thought was built for arenas, did nothing to disprove that notion. "This is an anthem," sang frontman Nathaniel Rateliff. Indeed it was. Meanwhile, Yo, Flaco! held its own against Arrested Development, the much-ballyhooed national headliner. Speech and his posse were pretty tight, from what I heard over the fence, but I couldn't tell you for sure, since I finished off the night at Two AM, where the members of Drug Under had reunited with former Sick bassist Aaron Greenwall. Only caught one song, but needless to say, it was sick.
And that was it for me. Stick a fork in this smorgasbord, the Showcase is done for this year -- except for the awards ceremony, set for Monday night at the Bluebird.
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