By Natalya Jones
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Where doth hipness dwell in Fort Lauderdale these days? For those bored with drum-machine karaoke at the Elbo Room (which everyone should witness once just to calibrate the ol' suck-o-meter) there are a few places sure to satisfy your musical appetite. Perhaps the most consistently hopping place in terms of attendance and quality of performers is Shakespeare's Pub in Wilton Manors. A few warm weekends ago, the tiny space was paid a visit by local upstarts We Got the Missiles, a very promising, raw, and exciting new guitar group. Kids, I love that cassette you passed to me; if you're reading this, please give me a call! Only a scant crowd was on hand to enjoy the sounds that night, but Friday, May 11, the former Pizza Hut was overflowing with indie-rock-starved geeks.
"Poptopia," the monthly music showcase at Shakespeare's catering to those with Britpop inclinations, used to enjoy a predictable first-Saturday-of-the-month slot. Of late the event has moved to any given Friday. However, whether it's word of mouth or tin-can-and-a-string, folks seem to know what's up, milling around the parking lot, ordering tasty beers like Sierra Nevada or local fave 11, and finding a place to sit (if they're lucky) or stand to enjoy the show. The May 11 installment was packed for a performance by Miami quintet See Venus, which recently lost singer-keyboardist Erica Boynton. The band has several amazing songs -- "Shine Like Stars" is particularly memorable -- but its computerized sound often has difficulty translating from hard drive to the stage.
Those problems didn't plague the headliner, Fort Lauderdale's Whirlaway, which took the opportunity to unveil its newest CD, Letting Go. The impact of Whirlaway's music comes less from strong compositional skills than from a carefully controlled sound that is loud as all get-out, clean, and sharply detailed. Taking a page from the book penned by shoe-gazers of old (I heard shades of Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive), Whirlaway capably updated its guitar-based cacophony. In fact, I could hardly imagine a better place for South Florida music lovers to be that Friday.
And then there's Hashbrown, which in an interesting turn of events managed to play to an enthralled throng at the Poor House Saturday, May 12, only to move across town the following evening to new club Freez(formerly FU*BAR) and be greeted by an empty room. And I'm talking empty -- as in a bartender or two, me, my cellmate, the band, and maybe three other people -- at 11:30 p.m. To witness Hashbrown playing its party-friendly tunes -- including an ass-kicking rendition of "Manic Depression" -- followed by pin-drop silence (I could actually hear neon signs buzzing after the last note died out) was disturbing, off-putting, and distressing. Not just to the band, but to me, as Hashbrown had little recourse but to put Bandwidth on the spot, heckling me from the stage. I hate that!
Unfortunately Freez isn't the only deserted live-music venue I've seen lately.
When some Windy City pals came to visit Fort Bandwidth a few weeks ago, yours truly was embarrassed when, asked to provide a live reggae experience, I was unable to oblige. After their departure I began searching for reggae in Broward, and my preliminary investigations are not terribly promising. Considering its proximity to the island, South Florida is surprisingly unaccommodating to live Jamaican-style acts. After combing record stores in the southwest 'burbs (hotbeds of irie activity) I discovered some beneath-the-radar live events (such as a massive all-night bash with Sizzla and Prince MalachiApril 13 at Maydays in Pembroke Pines) and a plethora of DJ/ selector types spinning in clubs, but most live reggae is limited to Sunday afternoons at Atlantis (with the band Wyle Fyah), Saturday nights at Playoffs Sports Bar (also with Wyle Fyah), and Friday evenings at Jerk Machinein downtown Fort Lauderdale, which is probably the most fun and unpredictable of the three. A recent visit found a small New Timesgroup emboldened by a steady current of Red Stripes and jerk wings. We were the only patrons then as well, but Reggae Syndicate's vocalist won us over with his ability to sing and hold cell phone conversations at the same time.
Another advertised live reggae night I checked out left a great deal to be desired. Alligator Alley has fallen on tough times since manager Carl Pacillo pulled out of the project a few months back, and the club's Sunday Caribbean Jamm is proof positive of that downturn. Starting April 1, Alligator Alley began advertising live bands and DJs rocking Jamaican music at the 8 p.m. weekly event. Managing to procure a few tickets, we ventured to Sunrise at about 10:30 p.m. a few Sundays ago to find the extremely well-appointed room devoid of life. Well, we did see a bartender -- and a DJ with crates of vinyl filling the void with roots, dance hall, and dub. Very nice, but loud enough that conversation was damn near impossible. When I presented our tickets to the bartender, he looked at them as if they were from outer space, obviously never having seen them before. He explained that the live bands "weren't working out" and the Caribbean Jamm would be strictly a DJ affair for the foreseeable future. I wonder why.
It's easy to blame South Florida for a stiflingly small range of musical acts, but when no one turns out to see them -- and I mean no one, as in not one single solitary person at all -- we have to blame ourselves.