Johnny Astro and the Big Bang rides a rocket to Sundown

Johnny Astro and the Big Bang are, from left, Patrick Tice, Paul Wakefield, Zach Gilleran and Mike Carroll.

Johnny Astro and the Big Bang are, from left, Patrick Tice, Paul Wakefield, Zach Gilleran and Mike Carroll.

Johnny Astro and the Big Bang is a name that frequently comes up in discussions regarding the best acts in Knoxville. But if the word-of-mouth hype is hard for some to swallow, the band's top honors at The Square Room's months-long Sound Off competition should provide some credence. This week Johnny Astro will take the stage with Better Than Ezra at Sundown in the City, a remarkable feat for a band of 20- to 22-year-olds who have played together for only a year.

The Sound Off win in March was a clear nod of public affirmation for a band yet to play outside its hometown confines. Johnny Astro has taken little time in capitalizing, already claiming its Sundown spot and Rock Snob studio-time rewards.

The band is riding its momentum despite recent setbacks. The group lost a member from its original lineup when guitarist Jackson Collier left shortly after the Sound Off victory.

"Jackson was just sort of going in a different direction musically I think, much more interested in really old blues-oriented stuff," vocalist/guitarist Paul Wakefield explains.

"I think we may start developing more of a sound than we have before. I think me and Patrick (Tice) are more on the same page when it comes to songwriting than me and Jackson were. I think we'll still have different sounding stuff, but it will be more cohesive as a whole, and our shows are going to benefit a lot from the new energy."

The gang took little time shoring up its guitar gap. A day after Collier's departure, new guitarist Patrick Tice commenced a crash course in the band's set list in anticipation of Astro's Sundown debut.

The intense transition came naturally for the longtime friend of the band who had attended many of the group's raucous live outings. Moving forward, Tice will perform on the upcoming Rock Snob recording session. The band hopes to lock down three new tracks for an as-yet-determined release.

With an admittedly different style, Tice asserts his intent to stay true to the Astro classics, but will apply his fitting contributions to new works drawn up following this month's local push.

"I'm learning everything as quickly as possible," says Tice. "I'm going to try to do all the old stuff as close as possible and still move it forward. It won't be an exact representation; we'll just build on what we have. I feel like, stylistically, it's a pretty good fit. I'm not a completely different kind of guitarist. It's gonna be good, just a little bit of a different direction."

The band says its high volume of shows scheduled in recent weeks was a coincidence, but the extra practice of last week's Barley's show coupled with an 11 O'Clock Rock appointment leading into the Sundown in the City date necessitated the intense rehearsals needed to build up its new addition. After this month's remaining schedule, which also includes a Pilot Light gig, the band will recede into the shadows to write before a summer of heavy touring.

"We're making one last burst before we lay back and start working on writing and going out of town," Wakefield says. "We probably won't play shows here for a while just to give it a break."

Sham wow!: Cutthroat Shamrock will perform at 10 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at Barley's Taproom, 200 E. Jackson Ave.

Nice and Nicely done: Pilot Light hosts Jennifer Niceley and The Altered Statesmen at 10 p.m. Saturday, May 7. Admission is $7.

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