I was out in the rain Saturday night, standing outside a bar doing those things that people do when they stand outside a bar in a no smoking town, as the surprise birthday party I was attending, started to wind down. When your friends start to turn thirty, the all day ragers start to make way for more civilized affairs. It was only 10:30 or so, and people started saying their goodbyes. I saw an opportunity. It had been a while since I’d seen either Beaten Awake or Houseguest, and the price was right (i.e. free), so it was goodbye Aj Rocco’s and fire brewed Stroh’s, and off to the Rock-mobile, destination Beachland Tavern, for the Audio Eagle Showcase.

Unfortunately, the Rock-mobile just wasn’t fast enough, and I arrived a little late to catch Southeast Engine, the Athens, Ohio band who recently signed to Misra for their next release. The unfortunate didn’t end there. After a promising start where they ripped through some tight Kinks-y, Strokes-y (but, in a good way) Rock ‘N’ Roll, The Strange Division’s set was derailed by a blown bass string. You could hear the people standing next to the stage say one after the other, “I’ve never seen that happen.” Strange, indeed. It took a loaner bass guitar, then a few more numbers for them to regain their rhythm, and by the time they found their groove, it was time for the old, “This is our last song of the night.”

And, there was more unfortunate. Houseguest had a rare off night. When your pop songs twist and turn, start and stop, with such precision, and when you’re relying on two guitarists, a bassist and drummer to spot on, being a little off makes a big difference. Midway through the set, singer Ted Mallison seemed at wits end, when he said, “We’re through. We’re not through tonight, we have a few more songs for you, but we obviously peaked months ago.” Behold the power of sarcasm, for after that comment, the band seemed to get it back together in time to salvage the second half of the set, including the positively poppin’, “Muted Mesa.”

Last up was Beaten Awake and when they took the stage, they didn’t disappoint. Dudes were ON. They’ve only been playing together for a couple years, in what started out at first as some old friends in the Kent scene jamming during their down time. Now, it seems all that practice time and all that time spent trekking the country with the likes of The Black Keys and The Heartless Bastards is really starting to pay off, as they sound tighter then ever.

Early in the set, vocalist Jon Finley introduced one of the new numbers they played with the tentative title, “CC Sabathia won tonight and he’s 17 and 7. He’s going to win the Cy Young. Amirite?” It could have also been called “Raise Up.” Either way, this was one groove monster of a jam. My bud Jeff described it as Six Parts Seven with vocals. Not a bad description, for on this one, as well as a lot of the other new material, the guitar work of Allen Karpinski (of Six Parts Seven and Beaten Awake) took a more prominent role. It’s so easy to miss him as he stoically picks his guitar in the corner of the stage, when the other members of the band (Finley, Joel McAdams, and Ryan Brannon) are considerably more extroverted.

Although many of my favorite Beaten Awake songs are McAdams’ short, sweet, slacker pop numbers, it was Finley on the lead again for the other highlight of the night, the brooding, then burning southern tinged rocker, “A & E.” I don’t know when this happened, but it has become the undisputed champ of their live set. I would never describe Karpinski as someone who shreds on guitar, but when they get to the instrumental break, he and the rest of the band, have really learned to let loose, and jam on it.

Originally, I wasn’t worried about catching Beaten Awake this night, since I knew they’d be playing again, Friday, at the Grog Shop. Now, it looks like I’m going to check ’em out twice in a week. They’ve gotten that good.