The Hurricane again became the evening's nerve center. Last year, the Casket Lottery and Season to Risk shook its foundation; this time, a pair of DJs created the tremors. Mill Creek repeated as the designated groove farm, though it supported Brent Berry's rock-steady beats with potent doses of power-pop and tear-in-beer country. Blayney's welcomed the evening's low-volume acts, such as acoustic singer-songwriter David Hakan and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson's instrumental ensemble, though when guitarist D.C. Bellamy started working his mojo, it also housed one of the night's loudest, most interactive crowds. McCoy's again packed a four-bedroom band (Ruskabank this time) into a studio apartment's worth of stage space, and it again hosted the Showcase's finest hour. And the Beaumont Club bolstered its wild-card status, offering stage blood (Descension poured it on a half naked "nun"), real blood, a fake crotch (an autographed dildo Big Jeter tossed into the crowd), a Rotten Crotch, a stumbler (tumble-prone Last of the V8s frontman Ryan Mattes, seemingly suffering from a bout with vertigo) and a Buster (blues harp phenom Brody).
Showcase night provided fans with one last chance to vote for the Pitch Music Awards (which will be held Friday, April 12, at the Uptown Theater), but an event that generates so many standout sets should spawn a few awards of its own. So here are a few citations recognizing the artists who added something special to Showcase night. Unfortunately, this distinction doesn't come with a trophy, though Big Jeter, who held aloft a suspiciously inauthentic-looking Best Live Act award he claimed was on loan from Tech N9ne, might have some black-market connections.
Most Memorable Performance: Wearing a broad smile that shone more brightly than her gold lamé apparel, vocalist Myra Taylor mesmerized the audience before she sang a word. Once she began speaking, however, the intensity of the spell increased exponentially. Still sassy at 85 years old, Taylor crooned an irresistible ditty about needing a man, any man -- according to her lyrics, even an ape-shaped behemoth with halitosis and a drinking problem would qualify. Near the end of the tune, Taylor muted her band to break down the song's situation to her appreciative audience. "For a long time, I had rules," she explained, noting how she'd moved from requiring a chap with a cane to settling for a male partner in a wheelchair ("we could ride side by side") to finally accepting anyone who's breathing and bringing home an income.
Taylor's backing quartet provided complementary grooves and some sprightly trumpet accents, but she didn't hesitate to silence them for her asides to the crowd or to chide them for any miscues. When her trumpet player repeatedly jumped in on the wrong beat as Taylor attempted to lead a sing-along, she calmly ushered him back into rhythm. But when the pianist flubbed the next cue, Taylor snapped, "Now you've got the white boy doing it." Like a beloved grandmother, Taylor played several roles -- gentle disciplinarian, engaging storyteller, surprisingly earthy humorist. Her personality also came through in her still-sharp vocals, as Taylor infused every line with rich, expressive phrasing.
Best Crowd Response: Worked into a frenzy by MC Shawn Edwards, who blended party-starting DJ catchphrases with a drill sergeant's delivery, the Hurricane audience throbbed with energy. After one of Edwards' hyperactive pep talks, the capacity crowd probably would have danced dutifully to a polka ballad, but the evening's entertainment lineup offered them considerably more to work with. DJ Nitro's disco beats set almost everyone at the club into motion, from people waiting in line for drinks to seated barflies covertly shaking their booties on their stools to, frighteningly, men using the venue's urinal trough. Moaning Lisa didn't disturb the groove with its hook-driven guitar pop, as the quick-adapting audience bobbed to the band's harmonious choruses, stopping only to salute its guitarists during their signature arena-rock poses. By the time Steve Thorell followed with a solid hour of chest-rattling techno thumps, maneuverability was minimal -- even patrons who felt inspired to make like John Travolta had only enough personal space to nod in time with the music, indie-rock-style. Such cramped quarters made moshing impossible as well, so pumped-up punks appreciated Tanka Ray's streetwise sounds with extra-vigorous head-nodding. Among the bobbing noggins were the members of No Doubt's rhythm section, in town for a gig the next night at the Uptown Theater, who reportedly gave TR two thumbs up. (Perhaps bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young also surreptitiously checked out Tawni Freeland's set at McCoy's, scouting the emotive, fashion-forward West Coast-bound vocalist's potential as a Gwen Stefani foil.)