Entering its second year, Emergenza, an international "battle of the bands," is nothing if not ambitious. In the next week, nearly 2,000 bands will go head-to-head in 17 U.S. cities. Similar numbers will compete in Canada and Europe. The grand prize? Some cool gear, an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany, some helpful industry connections, and a good deal of exposure. The Memphis leg of the competition takes place at the Hi-Tone Café and features an eclectic (to the point of being nonsensical) lineup of regional talent. There are a handful of local fixtures competing, but for every FreeWorld and Gabby Johnson scheduled to play there are plenty of bands that even regular club-crawlers have probably never heard of. And it's not all pretty.
For starters, Frayser's finest hair-rockers, Massacre Machine, a hysterically named band once known as (and I'm not making this up) Minas Morgul, will make with the metal. Think Spinal Tap without the intentional irony, and you're getting close. Jonesboro's Starroy plays boilerplate modern rock, which is far more tolerable than the painful screaming of Memphis Skate Park regulars So She Sang. But there are also some pleasant surprises emerging from the Mid-South's ever-fertile underbelly. Mauxfaux's clever straight-ahead rock flirts with metal and punk but never goes all the way. North Little Rock's Deercamp in Cambodia seems to make fun of everything, including the dead -- Kennedys and Milkmen, that is.
The Emergenza lineup also includes Deep Shag, Dani, The Brian Porter Band, Bad Omen, Frail Destruction, Image, This Is Goodbye, Trickle-down, Up the Dose, and Voodoo Moonshine. Personally, I'm pulling for This Is Goodbye, a literate, genre-defying ensemble featuring former members of the underappreciated art-rock bands Dora, Square State, and Fireworks Over London. Imagine the Cure's Robert Smith (minus the Halloween couture) fronting for Versus, and you might get some notion of TIG's sonic MO. No tuneless emo screaming, no absurd metal posing, no garage-rock hipper-than-thouness, no punk-rock disdain, and no radio-pop pabulum, just thoughtful, artfully arranged guitar- and keyboard-driven songs that will stay in your head for a long, long time. Sadly, craftsmanship isn't really a virtue among jam bands that like to "feel it" and rockers who like to rock. But even if they don't win, it's time for Memphis to say a big hello to This Is Goodbye. Emergenza begins on Thursday, January 13th, and runs through Sunday, January 16th.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the monotonously driving guitar rock of The American Prince's debut recording, We Are the People, and the opening tracks of their sophomore release, Little Spaces, promised more of the same. Then something changed. Melodies began to emerge, and with the melodies came lyrics that were introspective without being solipsistic, mature without sounding over-the-hill, and political without being partisan. From angst-ridden songs about important words that won't make it past the lips, to a meditation on death in Rhode Island, to straight-up hip-shakers about nothing at all, it looks like this Little Rock band is finally growing into its big rock sound. They join Chess Club at the Young Avenue Deli on Saturday, January 15th.
For those of you who might want to jump on the Love Train, the O'Jays' Eddie Levert will be playing the Cannon Center on Monday, January 17th. Levert will be singing alongside his son, Gerald Levert, a soul classic in his own right. In addition to doing their own hits, the father and son duo have been performing tributes to Barry White and Luther Vandross. •