By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
This crowd complements the 'Trap well: After hacking through Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" in an off-the-cuff, mocking way where it's unclear whether the band hates the song and plays it because the frat crowd demands it or whether the band likes the tune but just doesn't have the balls to admit it, Mingo Fishtrap whips through some songs off its own debut disc. The band puts over the originality with added intensity, and the crowd responds: The songs aren't familiar, but the audience recognizes that after the band gave them what they wanted to hear for 45 minutes, it was now giving the audience what the band needed them to hear. As the scrawny blond kid with the saxophone hammers it down in the finale, giving it his all, Mingo Fishtrap proves that white-boy funk bands can grow up, at least for a few minutes at a time.
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
Used to be a time when everyone in this town went country sooner or later; now, after a while, everyone seems to think they're playing Vegas with Sammy and Dean. It'd be easy enough to question Bill Longhorse's move toward satin-doll pop: His previous bands, Rumble and Sixty-Six, were more suited for the last dive bar on earth than the nicest lounge in Reno. In Sixty-Six, especially, Longhorse sang with a growl that had its own name, sounding like Leonard Cohen on a Tom Waits bender. Behind him Nate Fowler and Gabby Ramirez and Toby Sheets couldn't decide whether they wanted to fuck or fight--damn, it made for some exciting nights, watching that band stay together by falling apart.
But you can only ride the bronco so many times before your ass starts to ache, so Longhorse jumped off and found a little safe haven playing guitar in a band where he isn't the frontman, even if he's still the star. And Mr. Pink isn't your run-of-the-till lounge act: These boys can play, tossing out Sinatra and Martin standards with silken ease. Live, Jefferson Stewart isn't the Dino he thinks he is in the studio (his "Sway" is so dead-on it's spooky)--more like Jack Jones before he climbed aboard the Love Boat. But that doesn't diminish the impact one bit: When you're looking for a place to gamble away a little hard-earned scratch, Mr. Pink is the safest bet in the house.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B
In Denton, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a herd of white boys with horns and plenty of hot air to spare. They come, party down, and eventually--if you are lucky--go home. No (relative) harm, no foul. You're not going to stumble upon a wee-willy-Parliament to be sure, but considering the funk alternative--311 clones ad nauseam--the saxes and trombones are far easier to get down. As if the name doesn't say it all, Mushroom Groovy fancies themselves a bunch of little merry pranksters, with jams focusing on getting high, making (preferably free) love, and getting high. With songs such as the quick-stepping ska of "Mystic Purple Cola" and the manic "Mighty Mow," the vibe stays light and searching. The independent CD Fungusamungus gives a good 40-plus-minute overview in a digestible take-home size, but as the live track shows, this type of funk is always better in the flesh, if for no other reason than you won't tear up your stereo when you swing that dead cat.
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
They're witty enough to sample Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka ("So you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!") and keen enough to sample Isaac Hayes' "Pursuit of the Pimpmobile" for a little roll-with-it vibe; the beats are light and tight, and the braggadocio's whimsical and wicked without ever losing the wit that comes with turning adversaries into dog meat without ever breaking a sweat. Indeed, these guys have been around long enough to make a few enemies, and the track "Elimination of an Artificial Ingredient" (found on the new Scene, Heard collection) reminds you of a time when rap artists got even with their foes with words, not deeds. "I've been rhymin' since you were a hole inside your daddy's Trojan," warns Chuck Smooth in a voice so deep and deadpan you could never imagine him cracking a smile. "Fuck with Native Poet, your block is now the Gaza Strip." This is some serious shit, Charlie gone nuts in the Chocolate Factory.
Native Poet, which also features Tahiti on tracks and The Cut Selectah Baby G scratching all hell out of that vinyl, wanders the line separating the politicians and the gangstas, packing so much rage into the funk. And I can only hope, pray, that "Elimination" is aimed at Pimpadelic (hence the sample?), especially with this stream of bile: "Fake white niggaz, lock 'em up in Rikers, Lew Sterrett, and Alcatraz/Yo', give 'em the gas." God bless Native Poet, but watch your step.
The Necro Tonz
Nominated for: Cover Band
By all cynical critical standards, the Necro Tonz should get boring a lot faster than they do. Then again, Alice Cooper and KISS, two long-buried blockbuster acts they cover, should've gotten boring long before they started selling millions of records. The comic-book premise of the Necros--they're a motley crew assassinated by the Mob and buried in the Las Vegas deserts, only to rise zombie-like from Cold War nuclear testing and form a lounge act--sounds dormant before you finish the description. Yet the semi-satanic shtick that infuses this cover act is canny enough about the necrophilia underlying the whole genre of cover bands and musically adept enough that lead singer Necrophilia and her quartet of multi-instrumental musicians can swing impressively on "Suicide is Painless" and be salaciously somber on "I Put a Spell on You." The heavy makeup they all wear and the funeral-home patter Necrophilia spouts between tunes are concessions to the grim gimmick; their rhythmic confidence and Necrophilia's vocal command are something more.