A View From The Judges Table: Night One of the Shiner Rising Star Semi-Finals

Shiner Rising Star Competition: Semi-Finals, Night One.
Hat Tricks, Lewisville
September 23, 2010

After eight weeks worth of first-round performances, and then last week's wild-card round, the semi-finals of the annual Shiner Rising Star contest, hosted by KHYI-95.3 FM The Range and Shiner Bock Beer, began in earnest.

To open up the semis last night, the contest went back to the scene of perhaps the first round's strongest night, Hat Tricks in Lewisville.

With a couple hundred people on hand to cheer along, it was clear that both of the evening's bands knew how to bring the crowds with them, just as they had when they were victorious in their previous round performances.

The two bands looking to punch their ticket into the finals (and, as a result, earn a recording contract with Shiner Records) on this night were: The Big Benders and The Robert Donahue Band. These bands, as has been the case throughout the contest, were completely different from one another stylistically, yet both displayed truckloads of gumption and balls-out firepower.

While some of the upcoming semi-final performances will be heavy on the country aspect of Texas country, last night was about celebrating the punk that angrily dwells inside most of this state's most celebrated, musical outlaws.

Mansfield's The Robert Donahue Band hit the stage first and effectively hit their stride quickly and professionally. As was the case a few weeks ago, when they were victorious at La Grange in Deep Ellum, their massive rocking and slick wall of sound brought on arena rock anthems that, for the most part, simply bled into each another, rendering several songs indistinguishable from one another. Inside of their 45 minute set, the four-piece act managed to mix things up, even if only a tad. Such was clear when they slowed down to offer "Tattoo," a touching song dedicated to those who have been effected by cancer. That momentary slow-down wasn't enough to stop the hard-charging monotony, however.

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Closing out his semi-final round was Celina's The Big Benders. Led by charismatic Saille Branch, who also happens to lead area rock band Dragna, this beefed up band again displayed the diversity that vaulted them into this round. This time around, a bass player was on hand, enabling Branch to play rhythm and turning the power-trio into a forceful four-piece. Diverse might not be the right word for this group's sound, actually. The sound of the band more closely resembled what might happen if Mike Ness and the chick from the Dresden Dolls got together at a Texas honky-tonk, smoked a ton of peyote and then proceeded to make a Johnny Cash-loving baby. Closing out the set with a punk-fueled "Highway Rider," Branch stalked the stage with the microphone chord was wrapped around his arm sans guitar and triumphantly provided one of the more climactic, rousing moments of the entire competition.

Riding that frenetic wave, Saille Branch and his Big Benders are the ones moving onto the finals, where last week's wild card winner, Two Door Ford, are awaiting them.

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