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Three for the show

A closer look at the top of the Rumble heap

OldJack OldJack
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2011

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And then there were three: J-Po, Jack, and the Kid. It could be the title of a ’60s Clint Eastwood western or a ’70s, um, Eastwood action flick. But in this case, it’s something even better, with more good guys and fewer unlucky punks: a shootout with axes instead of guns; a showdown on a sweaty stage rather than a tumbleweed-strewn street.

Yeah, you guessed it. It’s the final night of the 2011 Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble, and it caps a couple of weeks of terrific performances, tight competition from two-dozen acts, and even a smidgen of controversy when a scheduling snafu and communication kerfuffle led to preliminary first-night winners Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents withdrawing from the contest. OldJack, the first night’s wild-card winners — the band with the highest point total among a night’s non-winners — happily stepped in and stepped up.

While losing their semifinal round to fellow finalists the John Powhida International Airport (who, in fact, have beat both of their finals foes), OldJack again nabbed a wild-card spot that’s propelled them to tonight and a shot at payback. Meanwhile, after a first-round Rumble tumble at the hands of J-Po, Spirit Kid also scored a wild-card slot, seized the moment, and started winning hearts and points.

With tonight’s final Rumble in the jungle — or, at least, Cambridge — we wanted to do our civic duty and offer a quick refresher, for those scoring at home, on all three deserving bands squaring off tonight. Congratulations and good luck to all.

OLDJACK

Where They’re From: Arlington

How They Got Here: Won wild-card slots for preliminary night one (replacing Night One winners Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents) and semifinals

Set Time: 9:30 p.m.

Lead singer Dan Nicklin fronts a crowded house of classic rockers that ranges between eight and nine members and mixes up a medicine brew of world-weary guitars, gospel-choir vocals, stately keyboard accents, and Nicklin’s rustic take on blue-eyed soul.

The rootsy band’s homepage references to Joe Cocker’s sprawling “Mad Dogs & Englishmen’’ double album aren’t far off the mark, although we’d throw the Band and the Black Crowes in there as well. “Gone Before You Know,’’ its own record issued earlier this year, yields a joyful, more-the-merrier vibe that suggests a band far older and wiser than its two-year lifespan. (Indeed, its membership includes past and present members of Baby Strange, Ms. Pigeon, and the Luxury.) A twice-wild-card Rumble winner, OldJack has proven it has the legs for the longhaul.

JOHN POWHIDA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Where They’re From: Boston

How They Got Here: Won preliminary night three, and semifinal night two

Set Time: 10:15 p.m.

Like those damned Yankees, frontman par excellence John Powhida (who also hails from New York, and has been known to bust as many moves as Evil Empire shortstop Derek Jeter) is the odds-on favorite to take it all. The dude’s simply got the goods as a scary good singer, songwriter, guitar slinger, and entertainer. Powhida — that’s J-Po to his friends, bro — led his previous band, the Rudds, to a second-place Rumble finish in ’06, and he hasn’t lost a step (or that freaky falsetto range) in the five years since he took silver.

“Cut Way Down,’’ J-Po’s “lost album’’ released earlier this year, cuts an airport-wide swath of styles — arena-rock bombast; roller derby disco; lover-man slow jams — that offer 11 reasons why, like Jeter, the man’s a perennial all-star.

SPIRIT KID

Where They’re From: Boston

How They Got Here: Lost preliminary night three, but won semifinals wild-card slot; won semifinal night one

Set Time: 11 p.m.

The band’s name, as singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Emeen Zarookian puts it, is supposed to evoke childlike wonder and a positive outlook. Those qualities are not only evident in the DNA of groups Zarookian grew up loving — the Beatles, Beach Boys, Zombies, um, Electric Light Orchestra — but also in Spirit Kid’s frosted homemade pop.

After a stint playing bass and singing with glammy New Romantics the Sterns, Zarookian hunkered down to the hothouse of his imagination. The fruitful result was a debut last year that put a smile on the face of anyone old enough to remember Kindercore Records, Elephant 6, and all those dandy bands named after fruit and food (Orange Peels, Marshmallow Coast, Apples in Stereo). The band’s feisty Rumble performances proved that the Kid — now a full-on five-piece band which, believe it or not, has the smallest membership among the finalists — can rock as well as pop with the big boys.

Jonathan Perry can be reached at roughgems@comcast.net.

THE ROCK ’N’ ROLL RUMBLE FINALS

With: Spirit Kid, John Powhida International Airport, OldJack, and special guests the Shods

At: T.T. the Bear’s Place, Cambridge, tonight at 8:30. Tickets: $12. 617-492-2327, www.tthebears.com.