Ear Infection

"I brought my spandex tonight," Crease vocalist Kelly Meister joked to his bandmates while hanging in the "backstage" corridors of Miami's Bayside Hard Rock Cafe two Tuesday nights ago. Though Meister was kidding about the spandex, it was a telling statement about the current state of Crease's impending rock stardom. An hour later South Florida's great white rock hope took the stage to throngs of screaming adolescents, as well as a healthy number of screaming adults, as the opening act for Canadian band Finger 11.

Standing in the hallway leading to the dressing room, which Finger 11 was occupying, the bandmates -- Meister, guitarist Fritz Dorigo, bassist Greg Gershengorn, and drummer Eric Dorigo -- bitched good-naturedly about the backstage situation. "When we headline shows, we get treated like rock stars. When we open for other bands, we're just another local band," Meister groused as they milled among piles of stacked chairs and tables. But soon the fledgling-rock-star hang-ups were placated as a Hard Rock staffer led Crease to an office-cum-dressing room where an iced case of beer awaited.

When Ear Infection received a phone tip two weeks ago that some major-label A&R guys would be at the Hard Rock scoping and evaluating the Creasesters, we were on the band like a bad case of the clap, hoping to bring readers an inside glimpse of the rock-star-production-line machinations. However, there was nary an A&R guy in sight at the show -- not too surprising, as major-label reps are notoriously unreliable, especially two days after the SXSW conference (the beginning of "detox week," as it's known in the music industry).

These in-absentia A&R guys (who informed Crease that they did not want to see their company's name popping up in the papers) wouldn't have been the first to prospect Crease's profit potential. Several have come and gone already, including representatives from the far-from-desirable, band-dropping Interscope/Universal/Polygram polyglot, but Crease appears to be in no hurry to sign away its soul.

After self-releasing the ...sixpack shy of pretty EP last year, the band was as surprised as anyone when local alterna-radio station Zeta (WZTA-FM, 94.9) began spinning the post-teen-angst anthem "Frustration." Since then Crease has become the region's hottest unsigned property, pulling in rabid audiences hungry for the band's straightforward hard rock. The band has sold nearly 2000 copies of its CD and is gearing up to play the bidding game with the majors but is realistic about the prospects. "I just can't believe that many people like our stuff," Fritz says. "I can't believe we're on the radio, you know."

The obvious question that comes up when pondering Crease's potential for the big time is whether or not a hard rock band without a gimmick -- no rapping, no DJ scratching, no Satanism -- can move units when up against outfits like Korn and Monster Magnet. "Can AC/DC and Rush sell a million records?" Fritz asks rhetorically. "We're from the same school; we like to write loud stuff with melodies."

Deal or no deal, radio hit or no radio hit, Crease is enjoying the ride. Preshow at the Hard Rock, the band members were goofing on each other, applying eyeliner, spray-painting a multicolor bull's-eye design into Fritz's hair, and joking about "Frustration." "It's my favorite now; we play it at every show since it hit the radio," Fritz says, laughing, when asked whether the band's gotten sick of the song. Later, when the band played the opening chords of "Frustration," Meister whipping his long hair heavy metal-style, the crowd went mad while bouncers warily stepped closer to the stage to avert would-be crowd surfers. When the set ended, the band members went backstage to collect themselves before heading to the merchandise booth to sign autographs and practice being rock stars for a few more hours.

Last Saturday, Broward's hip-hop community stepped up both its cohesion and its visibility at Paradox magazine's Spring BreakFest '99, held at Lauderdale Lakes' Mall 441 Flea Market. Organized by 17-year-old Paradox publisher, Jenice Reddick, the event was intended to bring together hip-hop's five elements -- MCing, DJing, break dancing, graffiti art, and "knowledge of self" -- in a show of unity and positivity, concepts that aren't always synonymous with hip-hop culture. "Sometimes the cultures clash, certain elements get more attention and don't respect the other elements," Reddick explains. "Without each element hip-hop culture would have no substance." But the fragmentation wasn't evident at the BreakFest, which consisted of showcases and competitions in each of the four tangible elements.

The event's highlight was the break dancing battle, held on a linoleum dance floor just outside the mall's front door. Several Broward-area crews were represented, most notably the Deerfield-Pompano crew Floor Elements, which had six entrants in the battle and swept many of the rounds. The final award was split between Floor Elements' J-Dog and Lethal from Fort Lauderdale's Supernatural crew. Lethal blew away his competitors one by one with a combination of speed, agility, balance, and technical knowledge, busting out one-hand handstands, wicked floor moves, and freeze-frame stops that had the crowd's mouths dropping open. J-Dog pulled off his co-title with fancy footwork, popping, and in-your-face stylistics. The battle element was in full effect, with b-boys pantomiming their disses against their competitors.

Except for recurring sound-system problems, the event was a resounding success, and the message of positivity and respect was evident throughout. "I thought it was cool. It had a really good outcome. There were no incidents of violence, no tags in the bathroom," Reddick says, sounding understandably relieved. The event drew a multiethnic crowd of about 100 people throughout the day, demonstrating the increasing infiltration of hip-hop into diverse cultures. Look for further Paradox events in the near future as Broward's hip-hop scene continues to assert itself as a powerful and influential element of its own.

-- Brendan Kelley

Send music news, gossip, love letters, and witty commentary to Ear Infection at P.O. Box 14128, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33302. Or by e-mail: Brendan_Kelley@newtimesbpb.com

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