The formula’s a bit different tonight on The Next Great American Band. Our remaining bands play three songs each: one the judges picked for them, one the show picked for them, and one they bands pick for themselves out of everything they’d played in the previous weeks. If I were a conspiracy-minded person, I’d speculate that someone didn’t want The Clark Brothers to blow their shot at winning this by trotting out another clich├ęd, god-awful country-folks-is-good-folks original.

Spoiler? I hardly know her!

We finally, finally say goodbye to Light of Doom this week. They were great kids, but there was no way they were ever going to make it as an honest-to-god recording band. I’d love to see what they’re doing when they get through puberty, but until then — back to anonymity for you, young men!

D&MHO is up first, and Sheila picks Earth Wind & Fire’s "September" for them to play. They acquit themselves admirably, but they don’t have quite the fire (or the earth or the wind) that the original band brought to the song. Their second song is "Vehicle" by the Ides of March. Again, it sounds good, but this song in particular has a sort of sleazy edge to the lyrics that Denver just can’t pull off. The lead singer should be oozing "Want some candy, little girl? Jump in my van!" not "Please, ma’am, may I drive you to your next appointment? Watch your step!" Their final song is an original,  "The Way You Move Me," which again sounds great, and it’s something that fits well with everyone’s talents.

Sheila continues to adore D&MHO, and has nothing but good things to say about them, but pesky John and Dicko keep insisting on sullying her good time with nasty injections of reality. Both of them agree that D&MHO is a great live band, and lots of fun to see, but how sustainable are they making albums? I can see their point — I would love to dance like an idiot at one of their shows, but I can’t quite imagine putting on their CD in my car, say. And I still think they might be the most kick-ass wedding band on the face of the planet.

I will say this: Denver has grown into the frontman role. I still don’t see him as an arena-packing lead singer, but he’s getting better on the charisma front.

Next up is The Clark Brothers, who continue to wow everyone. John assigns them "Change the World" (originally performed by Wynonna Judd, but more popularly known through Eric Clapton’s version). They’ve ditched the drums and bass and gone back to their original three-piece, stripped-down goodness. And again, I really feel the urgency and connection from the guys when it’s just the three of them. Ditto for "Amazed" by Lonestar, which has John and Sheila swooning but leaves Dicko unimpressed — he wants more from them than "bog-standard country" (which, he says, is fine for Sixwire. Um, ouch?) They close out with "This Little Light of Mine/Faith, Faith, Faith," which is just as stirring and inspiring as when they first played it. How can these guys coax so much fire out of three little stringed instruments and no rhythm section?

The judges basically love these guys, and tell them they should win the competition. It’s interesting watching Ashley: He’s incredibly open, direct and passionate when he’s singing — like he’s looking straight at you, and you’re in the same room with him (I can’t imagine how intoxicating it would be to actually be right in front of him when he sings.) But when the music’s done, he gets profoundly embarrassed and nervous, like "Holy crap, what are all these people doing looking at me?" The impression I get is that he’s there to serve the music, not the other way around.

Last up: Sixwire. Dicko assigns them Steely Dan’s "Reeling in the Years," which I love, and which they rock. The harmonies, the guitar solos, the rocking out — they nail all of it. Next, they perform the mid-70s cheese-ballad "I’d Really Love to See You Tonight," and oh, the smarm! Not their fault, per se — it’s an amazingly cheesy song — but Andy does seem to embrace the cheese maybe more than is necessary. They close with their original, "It’s Good to be Back," which sounds great, as always. It’s a really solid song.

Andy is the complete opposite of Ashley — it feels like the music is a vehicle for him to be a star and/or get laid. He seems keenly aware of the camera at all times, and he always looks like he’s thisclose to sticking his tongue in the camera’s ear, you know? It’s the border between charming and smarmy, and I can’t quite decide where he falls. It depends on the song, I suppose — On "Reeling in the Years," he was charming. On "I’d Really Love to See You Tonight," it was all Velveeta, all the time.  I guess he’s a great musician, but he’s almost too aware of his status as frontman.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends:

  • Dicko, when the Clark Brothers did "Change the World": "That song is a laid-back, almost solemn song, but you breathe so much fire into that performance that I thought you were going to set the sprinklers off."
  • Another Dicko comment on the Clark Brothers: "I’ve traveled backwards and forwards to Australia every week to do this show. Sometimes it’s been tough. One thing makes it all right every week, and that’s when I see you guys take the stage." High praise.
  • John on The Clark Brothers’ "Amazed": "I think every woman in America wants you right now. I feel like a giddy little girl." This woman sure does!
  • John, when Sixwire did "Reeling in the Years": "I’m one of those anti-progressive rock types, I’m not a fan of Steely Dan, but you guys really welded a set right onto that song." As he said that, he made lovely little ball-cupping gestures with his hands. Hee!
  • Sheila again compliments Sixwire’s drummer. Dicko: "You used to love the singer and now you love the drummer? We don’t have enough episodes left to get through the whole band, Sheila!" Hey, don’t stand in Ms. E’s way, Dicko.
  • John after Sixwire went cheesy: "It was just bordering a little bit on smooth jazz — I was expecting Sting to come out and play a lute there for a second."
  • Dicko, after the same song: "I’m sure in your minds the stool and the ambience felt like the greatest Sixwire unplugged performance every, but to me it just felt like an old boy band that forgot to break up."
  • Sheila after Denver’s original: "Hearing you guys on stage every week if I was youth in America I would be inspired to want to play and instrument, and to me, that’s what it’s about." This may explain why she has such a different take on the band than John and Dicko — she’s thinking about inspiring the youth of America to become band geeks (which I endorse), while they’re thinking about who could actually sell albums (which I also endorse.)
  • Dicko on Denver: "Denver my boy — not only does he sing well, not only does he scrub up well, but he dances as well! Well done mate!" Yeah, not so sure I’d call it "dancing," but he did move a bit more this time.

Who’s going to win it? Whose album would you buy? Will we really be subjected to the sight of Dicko in a Santa suit next week? And will Sheila battle the Goo-Goo Dolls for supremacy on stage? We’ll find out everything next week!

Posted by:Sarah Jersild