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Talkin' homefront blues 

Open-Mic Shootout finalists let them eat acoustic cake

EDDIE'S ATTIC, NOV. 23 -- It was with no small amount of trepidation that we judges took our seats at Eddie's Attic's Open-Mic Shootout Friday night. Worried about the effect Sept. 11 might have had on singer/ songwriters, I braced myself for what would surely be an onslaught of sanctimonious and sentimental new songs from the field of 22 unknowns vying for the $1,000 jackpot.

By the end of the night, mercifully, there wasn't one heavy-handed, over-the-top patriotic ballad to be heard. In fact, there was no indication at all that America is currently fighting a war. This is especially surprising when one considers the genre of music being performed. Thirty to 40 years ago, the singer/songwriter was at the forefront of a social movement during wartime. All one had to do to tap into the zeitgeist of the time was walk into a folk music club where songs like "Masters of War" and "I Ain't A-Marching Anymore" were being played.

The times they have a-changed indeed. Granted, that was an unpopular war then and this is a popular one now, but the overwhelming majority of the songs played Friday night were more concerned with the politics of falling in and out of love. To be sure, all that loved gained and lost strummed over the same three chords grew a little tiresome during the first two rounds of play. The beauty of tournament-style competition, though, is that the cream always rises to the top. So the latter half of the evening became much more intense as the stand-out talent advanced through the brackets.

Chief among the standouts was Antje Duvekot, a native of Germany, who also happened to be the only performer of the evening to make any overt social commentary at all. "In Germany, we don't give out guns like sticks of bubble gum the way you do here," she jabbed before singing a tune about gun control that could've been borrowed straight from the Ani Difranco playbook. That comment met with a couple of hisses from the crowd, but it soon became apparent that Duvekot was one of the more accomplished performers in the ever-narrowing field.

The most dramatic moment of the night came when audience favorite Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band, from Salt Lake City, went up against Athens' Claire and Bain's Maple Yum-Yum. Shupe and his band, whose music would feel right at home on an episode of "Hee Haw," played a hilarious song about how banjo players never get any rock-star action, and it left the crowd ecstatic. Claire and Bain countered with a haunting ballad in which Claire played her guitar with a bow, cello style, and silenced the room. It was the closest vote of the night, and the outcome, with Claire and Bain the winner, drew a chorus of boos from a good portion of the audience. Even the judges themselves began good-naturedly booing each other.

In another highlight of the evening, Orlando's Amy Steinberg strode onstage with her keyboard and unabashedly sang about how much she loves sex, with the opening line, "If I suck yours, will you lick mine?" Steinberg made it to the quarter-finals, where she lost out to Duvekot's gun-control song.

Nashville's Kelly Zullo came off like a more angry and folky Liz Phair (which was a good thing) and made it all the way to the semifinals before she was voted out in favor of Eliot Bronson and his earnest-white-boy-with-a- guitar routine. Bronson's first-round song, about "a great big cookie cutter from the sky" coming down to homogenize America, was the only other tune of the night (besides Duvekot's) that approached any sort of social commentary.

In the end, it was Claire and Bain, with their intriguing stare-at-your-navel songs and multi-instrumentation (Claire even played a saw at one point) that came out on top.

On Sept. 25, an article in the Wall Street Journal prominently featured the Attic's open-mic as a place where songwriters churn out material related to the events of Sept. 11. Just two months later, at this wartime Shootout, there was no evidence of this. Perhaps the performers felt that people had grown tired of it all. On this front, the return to normalcy can be deemed a success.

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