Mill Stones

Seventh annual New Times showcase sells beer, inspires an imitator and hosts a middle-finger salute

What is it they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?

If it's true (ask Pearl Jam about Creed), then we should probably feel flattered to death by the April 14 band showcase hosted by Mill Ave. Beer Company.

The event just happened to coincide with the seventh annual New Times Music Showcase, confusing at least a few wristband wearers, who naturally assumed that the bar -- located right next to the New Timesshowcase-affiliated Mill Cue Club -- was part of the New Timesblowout.

Trophy Husbands slam lame bands at Fat Tuesday.
Trophy Husbands slam lame bands at Fat Tuesday.
Heather Rae & Her Moonshine Boys at Trails (above and below).
Heather Rae & Her Moonshine Boys at Trails (above and below).

Those who wandered into the Mill Ave. Beer Company showcase caught such rock war-horses as Stone Jerome, Kissing Kali, Light Year, Leos Invention, Big Moxie, and Amazing Radio Prophets.

I don't mean to piss in anybody's ale cup, but there's one thing the seventh annual Running of the Mill had that the Beer Company, for all its best intentions, couldn't match. No, I don't mean 20-foot Bud Light bottle replicas flanking patio stages. I'm talking about something important here. What I really like about the showcase, other than the fact that it's the one day of the year when I walk distances greater than the mileage separating my living room from my refrigerator, is the sheer range of musical genres on parade.

For me, the big question is whether to catch as many bands as possible -- even if it only means hearing a couple of songs from each -- or to see fewer bands for longer periods. This year I chose the latter option, beginning with Sweet Bleeders at a packed Mill Cue Club. Whether plunking out chords on his Alesis keyboard or strumming his silver sparkle Gretsch guitar, front man Robin Vining was consistently captivating, his soulful Jeff Buckley tenor floating perfectly above his tuneful, off-kilter songs.

At the nearby Fat Tuesday outdoor stage, Trophy Husbands served up a gritty set of no-frills, mandolin-powered acoustic country/folk. Near the end of the set, singer-guitarist Dave Insley announced, with mock seriousness: "Occasionally we write a song of topical interest. This is one of those songs." The group swiftly kicked into the brilliant anthem "Just Another Band I Love to Hate," with a sing-along first chorus that proclaimed: "The singer thinks he's Eddie Vedder, and their guitarist thinks he's great/I hope their van breaks down on the interstate."

At Beeloe's, the Slowdown played with characteristic sensitivity, using dynamics with such understated precision that even a shaker used for percussion could cut right through the mix. Early in the set, singer Yolanda Bejarano dedicated a gentle, heartbreakingly gorgeous tune to her father, who passed away recently. The starkly emotive quality of the set and Bejarano's commanding voice led one overwhelmed attendee to exclaim: "I'm PMS-ing, so I just knowI'm gonna cry."

Down the street, at Mill Cue Club, jazz chanteuse Delphine Cortez led her swinging quartet through a polished set of standards and originals. Using her voice as an instrument, Cortez unleashed wild flurries of inspired scat singing, illustrating every melodic move by miming trumpet fingerings against her mike stand.

Kansas City transplant Fifteen Minutes Fast was so spirited that, even though its tag-team vocals occasionally got buried in the mix, it did little to dim the glow of the Pinkerton-period brand of Weezer rock.

At Trails' parking lot, the loose-limbed vintage cowboy soul of Heather Rae & Her Moonshine Boys was one of the night's highlights. The eight-piece band -- complete with washboard virtuosity and the presence of Trophy Husband Dave Insley on guest guitar -- peaked with a sizzling cover of the Johnny Cash/June Carter classic "Jackson."

At the '70s-obsessed Have A Nice Day Cafe, the members of the outrageously eclectic Fatigo looked like giddy adolescents who crashed the college party. Goateed leader Mike Montoya cultivates an endearing onstage persona that's equal parts bohemian smart-ass and awkward geek, and he can't resist the cheerfully sarcastic barb. After one upbeat number, he poked fun at the motionless crowd, and his own band, by saying, "That was our one dance tune. Thanks for taking advantage of it."

Though the rambunctious hip-hop/hard-rock ensemble Dislocated Styles was at the adjacent Hayden Square -- with considerable sound bleeding in every time Have A Nice Day's door opened -- Fatigo's styles were plenty dislocated in their own right. Montoya incorporates Latin jazz into the mix and, like the Slowdown's Bejarano, occasionally sings in Spanish, but to my ears, his songs about beer, happy pit bulls and white bears stuck in the desert suggest a cross between Aztec Camera, XTC and They Might Be Giants.

My nominee for good sport of the night would have to be Employee of the Moth, who graciously filled in for a mysteriously absent Big Pete Pearson at the Mill Cue Club by starting a half-hour early and playing longer than they'd expected to.

After catching snippets of the Kranks' turbo-charged, MC5-style thrash and Sistah Blue's sleek R&B, I wandered over to Hayden Square to catch the showcase's headliners, the Phunk Junkeez. The godfathers of Valley rap-rock were in boisterous form (as if they're ever in any other kind of form), with MC Joe Valiente donning a white bra, instructing his bandmates to "look at my titties" and leading the amped-up throng to unite in a middle-finger salute. In a way, it was an appropriate end to a night of thoroughly dizzying musical range and benevolent hell-raising.

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