When the winner of last night's Sound Off! Semifinals was announced, there was no doubt in my mind that the judges had chosen the right performer. Hooves and Beak--also known as Whitney Flinn, a self-taught harpist--captivated the crowd with her lilting voice and pitch-perfect harp. The night's only solo performer, she managed to exude confidence while sitting center-stage with what might be the world's nerdiest instrument. Flinn's lyrics were smart and mature, filled with clever turns of phrase: "I can get you to a place/ where the bartenders lie/ and they lie right down by your side."
Hooves and Beak won Round 2 of the Sound Off! semifinals.
But what really pushed Hooves and Beak into winning territory was Flinn's stage presence: she had great banter with the audience, cracking jokes about anything from the drinking age of the crowd to R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet. She seemed like seasoned performer, playing any Saturday night show at any venue, unaware she was in a battle of the bands.
Of course, Hooves and Beaks wasn't flawless: Flinn was heavy on the self-deprecating humor, commenting that "the only thing special about me is this harp," which felt more sad than funny. Plus, she made a point of stating that she's originally from Kansas, not Seattle. For a minute, I wondered if this betrayed the point of Sound Off!, which is to give underage musicians from the Northwest a chance for recognition.
And like Hooves and Beak, there are plenty of reasons why the rest last night's bands (a cozy kitchen, The Cat from Hue, and Pan Pan) should have won--and why they shouldn't have. My analysis of the bands' successes and failures after the jump.
a cozy kitchen
Why they should have won: The Bellingham trio were last night's biggest genre breakers, offering drone-y, sparse freak folk to the crowd of teens and parents. The music felt creative and different; with my eyes closed, I wouldn't have guessed it was written by three 20-year-olds.
Why they lost: For all the band's charm, their stage banter was lacking. They had a few funny jokes about Seattle's fashion sense--"We all know how much Seattle loves American Apparel, and even more so, v-neck shirts"--but otherwise seemed uncomfortable, like they were pushing a bit too hard for laughs.
The Cat From Hue
The Cat From Hue
Why they should have won: The Camano Island-based jam band took home the audience response prize, and for good reason: pretty much every resident of the island showed up to cheer these guys on. If hometown love counts for anything, these guys are already celebrities in their own right. Plus, they had the night's best guitar solos.
Why they lost: The Cat From Hue doesn't sound nearly as clean and crisp live as they do on recording. There was too much jam and not enough polish. Also, the band could really work on stage banter: they barely spoke to the crowd all night.
Why they should have won:Before Pan Pan took the stage, I figured there was no way a band without a vocalist could compete with last night's lineup. Once the band started playing, I realized I was completely wrong. They didn't need a singer; jazz-inspired Pan Pan had the most complex, sophisticated instrumentalists of the night. (Which is why the Bellingham band took second place and has a shot at the wildcard spot for the finals). And keyboard player Sarah Jerns was an absolute crowd pleaser; she made sure to talk to the audience between songs, crack joke about music majors, and offer details about her band.
Why they lost: Not everyone loves jazz. Even though it's incredibly impressive to see five kids performing intricate instrumentals live, it still feels a little like elevator music.