Road to Bonnaroo 2012 at Mercy Lounge: Round One, 2/27/12 [By Lightning!]

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Monday evening, The Spin took a much-needed disco nap, in which we dreamed that several local-rock personalities were wearing strange, woolly gaucho pants as we listened to uncharacteristically earnest pop music. Was it a sign of things to come? A sign that The Spin is finally losing its mind? A sign that we should eat less junk food and stick to a solid sleep schedule? No matter, as we awoke in a hurried panic, ready to make our way across town to Mercy Lounge for this year's first installment of the Road to Bonnaroo series, where eight local acts were to battle it out for a slot at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. We donned both our writin' hat and our official judge's hat — not that we wouldn't be judging in an unofficial capacity anyway — and scurried up the steps to the lounge.

Up first and playing before a packed house were The Hollywood Kills, ready to dole out their sassy, emo-tinged brand of radio rock. With sleeveless shirts, pointy boots and a frontman who resembled Russell Brand and sounded like the dude from Coheed and Cambria, they confidently active-rocked their way through a set that we're certain plays well among the Rocketown crowd. The HKs brought out a few pals and fans, but they were playing the toughest slot in front of an audience that proved to be pretty unresponsive all night long. Anyway, they were proficient as players, so there's definitely that.

And then it was time for another dose of active rock, as the mysterious and near-impossible-to-Google TOY, um, evanesced to the stage. That isn't to say TOY sounds like Evanescence ... they just make, you know, chuggy nu metal with electro, dubstep and occasionally vaguely Eastern elements. If they're to be judged by their stage presence alone, it seems like — in their minds, at least — they're already opening for Disturbed or something similar on an arena tour. So good for them. Also, we assume they brought their own projected background visuals, as we consider it unlikely that Mercy already had some B-roll from Saw 5 cued up.

Before anyone had time to prepare, local perpetually-too-big-for-his-britches attention monkey (in an endearing way) Brandon Jazz entered to the sounds of Tone Loc's "Wild Thing," bee-bopping around the stage like an emaciated, glam-pop Huey Lewis. Jazz provided vocals while backed by his Armed Forces — in this instance, just drummer Jerry Pentecost and loads of triggers and backing tracks — and we must say, the DIY light show Jazz managed to muster was seriously impressive. But The Spin considers any sampling of Paul Simon's "Call Me Al" to be a form of sacrilege, and the crowd seemed somewhat befuddled by Jazz's aggressive confidence. Nevertheless, the guy gave it his sweat-soaked all, God bless him, and as per usual, we admire his chutzpah.

Colorfeels, thank heavens, brought the whole thing back down to earth a bit with their earnest, folky, occasionally Graceland-y indie pop. Their tunes are smart and busy, peppered with horns and glockenspiel, and it makes for the sort of sometimes sleepy, sometimes perky, Afrobeat-meets-MMJ presentation that we felt might fare well at the 'Roo. Anyway, at this point in the bill, Colorfeels made for a welcomed bit of approachability — like a tall glass of ice water in a sassy local-rock desert.

Then came Laura Reed — the other mysterious wildcard on the bill — who proved to be not what we were expecting. Which is to say, we just don't know what we were expecting, but it wasn't Reed's sort of hip-hoppy new soul. Reed's sound was something like a very emotive, mildly New Age Erykah Badu, and certainly a curiosity-piquing bit of diversity amongst the evening's lineup. We thought we might hear a cover of "Killing Me Softly" when Reed and her sideman broke into a brief a capella rendition of the tune between songs, but alas, it was just a tease.

At this point, we considered lively and dynamic party-hop outfit Sam & Tre to be the crowd faves, and the reaction they garnered was easily the most enthusiastic of the night. Their thick, monster beats and occasional dubpstep touches (wait ... has dubstep officially squirmed its way into everything now?) were laid on thick, and their energy certainly made for a fun show.

Mercy Lounge's 8 off 8th series is a patience-testing thing, even when the general quality of the bill is high. And around the time By Lightning! began to erect their wall of ensemble indie-folk psychedelia, the crowd began to thin. We blame that on the hour rather than the performance — obviously, considering the fact that BL took home the cup. Co-frontperson Kat Brock was conspicuously absent from the lineup, but backing vocalist and auxiliary instrumentalist — and spouse of frontman Joel McAnulty — Serai Zaffiro McAnulty handled co-frontperson duties rather handily, and we enjoyed the Lightning's folk-pop freak-outs. It really just sounds like nouveau De Novo Dahl, which makes sense, since that too was a McAnulty joint.

The Spin got a kick out of the fact that sloppy, brainy indie-rock outfit Quichenight ended — or "headlined," you might say — the night's bill. It was a totally unlikely band for the last slot, and the exhausted crowd's somewhat quizzical response proved it. Still, we think frontman Brett Rosenberg delivered the best lyrics of the night. Seriously: "Pinky rings and world-music hats galore for the guys who play bass / That's a different kind of scene that's just as pure / That shit is valid, that shit is just as tight as you." I mean, come on. That shit is solid. Moreover, it's just the sort of sentiment that keeps local music fans (and judges) in check. Because, you see, here in our world, By Lightning! won the day. But in some universe somewhere, TOY is considered just as tight, and just as valid. Weird.

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