Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly NXNW Bound

By Bill Frost

JULY 13, 1998:  That's right, fight fans: another North by Northwest Showdown to Portland has come and gone. If you weren't there for the Friday Night Nitro and haven't yet heard, the Given won an expert panel of judges over with their heartfelt tunes, airtight musicianship and—this is just pure speculation—good looks and moves that drive the women-folk wild. If Sassy magazine is still around, there's a Cute Band Alert in the Given's distant future.

In the band's near future is a fully-sponsored trip to Portland, Oregon for the annual NXNW Music and Media Conference, courtesy of City Weekly. Of course, this means that the editorial offices won't be getting the hot tub and private helicopter we've been diverting funds for, but it's a small price to pay for local music. Next month, the Given will have the chance to meet music industry-types, attend seminars and play for a whole new audience during the crazed days of NXNW in downtown Portland.

Not that the Given just breezed by the seven other bands competing last Friday. Four judges—three currently in local bands that have competed in past NXNW/SXSW Showdowns—rated the groups on originality, professionalism, musicianship, stage presence, promo-pack presentation and songwriting, 1-10 points possible from each judge. Before they took the stage in the final slot of the evening—not always the pole position, despite belief to the contrary—Jayson Haws and the boys had plenty of competition from their fellow finalists. Here's how it went:

Choice of Reign: The band's name is kind of misleading, since it automatically brings to mind a group of uptight Goths singing about how mankind sucks and why they can't find a decent place to have coffee anymore. No, this band, fronted by singer/guitarist Steel—not the American Gladiator—has more shades than basic black. Stuck in the less-than-desirable 7 p.m. slot, Choice of Reign banged out 45 minutes-worth of literate hard rock and '90s-defying guitar heroics, making for the best show-opener that the NXNW/SXSW Showdown has seen in a long time. Unknown quantity winner of the night—if there were such a category, anyway. Random judge comment: "They take some cool elements and bring them together—but stay away from the funk." Total score: 149.

LoveSeat Daredevil: And what does this name mean, fergodsakes? Anyone who's picked this paper up before knows that Utah Funk Metal ranks right below Olestra and Richard Gere movies on my Things to Avoid checklist. That said, LoveSeat Daredevil could have been far more annoying than they actually turned out to be. Thanks to the smart addition of a saxophone/percussion player, LSD are a little ahead of the UFM curve—but not by much. Aside from "Beauty Secrets" and the skills to whip up a heavy groove, the Daredevils don't have much in the way of memorable hooks or songs, leaving the system soon after like so much Chinese food. Random judge comment: "Sexy guitar guy needs to flash more skin and get a better tone." Total score: 140.

Marmalade Hill: A band that's been plugging away for years with little fanfare, Marmalade Hill were thisclose to taking the win on Friday—one point, to be exact. The acoustic/electric folk-rock approach keeps getting more popular all the time, but singer/songwriter Mike Brennan has been there with Marmalade Hill for over three years. Their set on Friday night was that of a relatively-seasoned—hate that term, sounds like we're cooking ribs or something—band in their prime. Yes, songs and melodies still count for something, even if it isn't nessesarily booze sales in clubs. Random judge comments: "The vocalist is unique and moving," "Very sensitive male rock—makes me want to vomit and burn things." Total score: 169.

Jezus Rides a Rik'sha: Uh, OK—what do you want to know? I saw JRR stack their amps to the ceiling and play a couple of songs that sounded akin to a washing machine full of live cats and sawblades, finished my beer and walked next door to Spanky's to check out jazz renegades extraordinare El Producto. Sorry, couldn't sit through another set of the Rik'sha—did they play the timeless classic "Mom Caught Me Masturbating"? Will Jezus Rides a Rik'sha be back for Showdown 2000? My Magic Eightball says "Count on it, sucker." My brain hurts ... Random judge comment: "These guys rock in 1988—it's new and refreshingly cheesy." Total score: 155.

Dimestore Deacons: Singer Lara Jones, fiddle/steel player Dan Salini and drummer Jay Whetmore also play in Atomic Deluxe, past winners of the SXSW Showdown, but the Deacons' sound is more countryfied rock & roll than honky-tonked rockabilly. Featuring the only female performer of the night, the Dimestore Deacons were also the only band of the evening to receive an blank comment sheet from the lone female judge—is this some kind of Girl Power Solidarity thing? Random judge comment: "Didn't she win a revolving back-up band contest last year?" Total score: 148.

Headshake: The suave action figures of Salt Lake rock had to compromise to play a 45-minute set in the middle of seven bands: No aliens, no pyrotechnics, just the the patented Headshake SuperComputer and a set of neo-new wave tunes: Hell, they didn't even have their bass player: Jason "The Mystic" Meadows had pressing business elsewhere, so ex-Loose bassist Dale Rowley filled in at the last minute. Since they're lovers, not fighters, it was surprising just how high they scored in this tooth-and-nail competition—did Pete Weiland, Headshake's lounge singer/international spy/rock stud disguised as James T. Kirk unleash a SuperComputer-manufactured hypno-gas on the audience? Watch Hard Copy tonight to find out. Random judge comment: "Good visuals, but I want them to make me believe that they enjoy this ... or something." Total score: 167.

Chola: Is there a City Weekly conspiracy against funkateers Chola? Somehow, this band has gotten it under their caps that this paper is out to destroy 'em and have whined at every step of the NXNW Showdown. Would we waste the time and film of photographer Fred Hayes—he ain't cheap—shooting every band of the night if we knew who was eventually going to win? Would we blow all those bar tabs getting the volunteer judges drunk? Besides, Marty Renzhofer of The Salt Lake Tribune said basically the same thing I did of Chola's CD: "That's nice and funky—now go write a song." Does this mean that City Weekly is now in bed with the Trib, TCI and AT&T? I wish—maybe then we could get the damned air conditioners fixed around here. Random judge comments: "The Beastie Boys and 311 had a baby," "Like a vibrator: boring and repetitive, but eventually orgasm-inducing," "This band makes bars sell beer." Total score: 164.

The Given: By the end of the night, drunken City Weekly staffers where falling down like, well, drunken City Weekly staffers on a Friday night and it was around 137 degrees in the packed, sweltering Zephyr Club. I didn't even care who had won anymore, I just wanted Charlie to announce it so we could get some air. The Given's win was an easy one to predict, given their quickly-accumulated following and a sound that's so commercially-viable that it's practically subversive. Jayson Haws and his band hold their weenies over the same stylistic campfire as Dave Matthews, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Matchbox 20 and the rest of the sincere, radio-ready troop, so getting some label attention in Portland next month shouldn't be too much trouble for them. Random judge comments: "Are these guys the new Osmonds?" "Very together musically, but someone should be the leader of this band—they're competing for air time." Total score: 170.

Believe it or not, the Showdown to Portland 1998 compilation CD, featuring two songs apiece from each of the finalists, will be available by next week—really. Sure, our last comp, Showdown to Austin 1998, took longer to complete than a John Harrington letter/manifesto to the editor, but this one will have a much quicker turnaround. Just don't hold your breath for another release gala at the Future Shop ...


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