As the first round of the Acoustic LIVE Challenge nears the end (only one more week left until semi-finals!), the talent and diversity continues to roll in. Last Thursday, The Challenge met west coast-style folk, lots of emotional lyrics, and the second female act to advance since opening night on March 10th. The three month-long event features five new performers every Thursday at The Ugly Monkey. The rules are simple: acoustic music only (no drums or electric instruments), original music only (no cover songs), and no more than three people on-stage per performer (supporting musicians are allowed, but that number is limited).
Dressed in slender jeans, a plain red t-shirt, gray cardigan, and black knitted cadet cap, Hulsey’s tender stage presence was peculiarly genuine. Noteworthy syncopation between vocals and guitar picking make Hulsey’s music divergent, while lyrics about life and nature are authenticated by a Pacific Northwest-inspired vibe- the makings of an Indianapolis Bon Iver, if you will.
West’s Bryan Adams-esque vocals are his obvious strength, supported by adequate guitar playing. Initially quite rigid and expressionless, West loosened up as his set progressed and accepted the judge’s recommendations for further development of his stage presence.
Sherflick brought a noticeable crowd of support who supplied ample interjections, hoots, and hollers throughout his set. Through humor and sarcasm, Sherflick’s set was lively and amusing. Backed by an entertaining percussionist and an, ahem, electric bassist, Sherflick’s acoustic rock carried through the bar well and demanded the audience’s attention.
Jess & Amy
This local female duo opened by explaining they have “a few friends” who follow them around to their shows- a modest statement, considering The Ugly Monkey was swarmed with people just before they began. Stunning beauty and zealous guitar skills aside, Jess’ variable vocal range (I called it a twangy howl that reminded me of Adele on her current "Rolling In The Deep") and songwriting capabilities are impressive. Equally impressive partner-in-crime Amy supported with additional eye candy, backup vocals, and cajón percussion.
Wells, who competed in last season’s Acoustic LIVE Challenge, left his loop pedals at home this year and performed entirely new material, all of which will be available on his upcoming album release. Wells’ signature growl is easily the distinguishing characteristic of his practiced music, but on-stage charm and mega-personal lyrics add to the total package as well.
The top two winners advance to the semifinals on May 19th.
1. Jess & Amy
2. Joe Sherfick
3. Derek Hulsey
4. Mike West
5. Jason Wells
Danielle covers local music for NUVO.net and IndyMojo.com.