Stroke Me

Welcome to Stroke-a Raton!

"Boca Raton," Saturday Night Live comedian Jimmy Fallon mused. "What's that mean? 'Rat mouth?' Oh, that's nice."

Glancing up at the massive chiffon Styrofoam stucco structure over his head, the Spanish-challenged Fallon (one last time, people: Raton is mouse; rata is rat -- my copyeditor's dictionary says so) acknowledged his first-performer status at the grand opening last Friday night of Boca's brand-new, regally appointed Count de Hoernle Amphitheater at Mizner Park.

"Mizner Park? What's that stand for?" he questioned again. "The concert next to the Sunglass Hut? I feel like I'm doing a show in a strip mall!"

Yes, the $6 million, 5,000-person-capacity outdoor venue in the center of Boca's bourgeois shopping district looks decidedly un-rock 'n' roll. Even walking down illustrious Plaza Real from the parking garage to the amphitheater smacks of life in another world: the subtle scents of expensive leather handbags and wafts of pricey perfume and cologne seeping through boutique doors, pickled and preserved old folks with gilded canes and shoes that could feed hordes of Third Worlders.

And, of course, dogs with clothes. Plaid sweaters, even.

Indeed, the assembled throng (about 2,000 short of a sellout) was a well-heeled (and high-heeled, and faux-fur collared) gathering, a very Boca crowd, easily able to afford the $35 tickets. Seven bucks for six ounces of cheap white wine? Sure! A few ripped T-shirts and a mohawk or two could be spotted but were grossly outnumbered by the Abercrombie & Fitch models in sport coats and slacks. A far, far cry from last January, when the Strokes' busy buzz was at its zenith and the scruffy ruffians packed Billboard Live on South Beach with a dazzling array of South Florida's hipsters.

And what's with the new Pee-wee Herman hairstyle that's rapidly collecting followers among the yuppie contingent: the close-cropped buzz with a pointy peak in front? Maybe it'll fall out of favor now that Paul Reubens has finally stuck a fork in himself.

Fallon tried out his celebrity impersonations and fronted his own "band" (whose take on Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" was passable) before vacating the stage for the Strokes -- who, true to form, took more than an hour to appear.

The delay allowed ample time for Bandwidth to scope out the surroundings. And posh surroundings they are. Though the newly sodded grounds aren't yet completed, the elaborate paving-stone walkways with color-changing lights are. Valets are ready to take your Lexus right at the front gate. A wraparound balcony serves as a VIP area. And the Boca Raton Museum of Art flanks the courtyard.

When the Strokes arrived with the chiming chug-a-chug of "Late Nite," the audience did start to act more like it was at a rock show, hoisting beers and singing along. The real fans even sang along to "NYC Cops" (chorus: "They ain't too smart"), which was left off the band's Is This It debut in the wake of September 11. Singer Julian Casablancas was the picture of low-rent panache all evening, slightly bored but always in control and in fine voice.

Unlike last time, the band unapologetically debuted a handful of new songs, which -- surprise, surprise -- sounded a lot like the old songs. Which is to say, semiderivative yet satisfying midtempo rockers strung up on clever catch phrases.

Finally, after several hours, we spotted the first black person we'd seen since arriving in Boca. A Strokes fan? No -- just an employee picking up trash.

The positive side of Mizner Park is that independent promoter Jon Stoll is going to snag more shows away from Clear Channel. Yet the upcoming roster includes several concerts that offer a rather dubious victory over the national radio/advertising/live-venue firm: Kenny G, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Village People and Meat Loafare set for December.

Which begs the question: Wouldn't Stoll's other outdoor venue, the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, serve just as adequately and without the highfalutin trappings of downtown Boca? True, it's only half the size, but it leaves concertgoers just as susceptible to the elements as Mizner. Yet with Clear Channel's unfriendly and anticompetitive practices, smaller promoters will fight the good fight by any means necessary -- Mizner Park's cheese-colored architecture be damned.

 
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