It's Better by the Pool

Saturday afternoon never rocked so well at Big Game.

A week after the techno-glitterati shot its wad at Miami's Winter Music Conference and returned to its incubators of slick in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Chicago, Fort Lauderdale hosted a sort-of multimedia bacchanal of its own. It wasn't at the beach or in the swanky pastel confines of a $400-a-night art deco palace. But with its first-ever rock 'n' roll pool party, entertainment vanguard By the Way established another unlikely cultural outpost at local tiki dive Big Game.

Like so many nautical-themed watering holes in South Florida, Big Game yearns for a salty, seaside locale, but it actually sits high and dry in the parking lot of a motel. Massive, stuffed sport fish hang next to an ancient big-screen TV under the main bar's palm-thatched, wood-beamed roof; tables and barstools look like they were hewn out of shipwreck salvage by Robinson Crusoe with a rusty handsaw. A secondary bar invites drinkers poolside, where on special occasions (Monday night football, for one), a chef grills tasty, softball-sized hamburgers. Attracting as many bikers as anglers, the place is a greasy remnant of Fort Lauderdale's past — the one that was happy being broke, barefoot, and sandy, not the generic, monied South Beach knockoff it wants to become.

As the opening event of the new year produced by BTW, the pool party brought a crowd about 40 strong or so, way earlier on a Saturday than most rock-star types are used to. Kicking things off around 4 p.m., a suit-and-tied Bobby Load ad-libbed hoarse, punk-rock rantings over wiry electric guitar and covered the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner." It was hard to tell whether to laugh or cry as Bobby unloaded on the small gathering of bikini-topped females and barefoot dudes sauntering around the patio drinking Bud Lights. A 15-foot-tall arch of purple, red, and white balloons bobbed in the breeze over the pool.

"I just think people go a little crazy for something to do on a Saturday afternoon," said Garo Gallo, BTW's poodle-haired impresario. Gallo and his partner, Yvonne Colon,took tickets at the front gate and greeted each arrival like an old friend. "You know, this is real loose, nothing serious," Gallo continued. "And it's spring — the inspiration was, let's just throw a gig out in the sun. When we told the bands about it, they all got really excited."

West Palm Beach foursome Full Black Habit seemed pretty stoked as it stepped onto the warped wooden deck that served as the party's stage. "Watch us clear this place out," singer Russ said. Reeling off rough, raucous, grungy punk, they didn't exactly clear the place, but not for lack of trying.

Hip-hop trio Real Life Dialect came next, all limps and tattoos and aggressive rhymes. "This song is all about wordplay, Vicodin, and barbecue chicken pizza" was lead MC Jesse Joint's intro to one particularly fuzzy track. The crew had sound problems — the mics kept crapping out — which led to a shortened set. In between bands, DJ Mike McKillomey rocked Talib Kweli and Billy Idol from his iPod.

Despite — actually, because of — the low-budget looseness that Gallo described, there was something pretty cool going on here. The wildly improving Bobby Load, the sputtering sound system, the oblivious grungecore of Full Black Habit, and the offbeat setting of Big Game compounded into a vague sense of benign danger, a what-the-heck-let's-just-rock heedlessness and spring-fevered thrill. It's an adolescent vibe that's impossible to find in more regimented, established venues, something closer to a high school kegger while the folks were away for the weekend. All it needed was someone to jump in the pool fully clothed.

Perfect timing, Yvonne. As Gallo's band Dooms de Popsprung like a funky coil into a sunset set of jammy, power-pop garage, the waifish brunet took the plunge. Gallo's drummer played with his back to the audience while a shirtless kid in a fedora spazzed out with a star-shaped tambourine. The band started off tight and on-point, but as darkness settled over Big Game and the pool went from mouthwash blue to silvery black, it let go little by little. By the end of its set, Dooms de Pop had unraveled into an unbridled jam session. Amateur? Maybe. Totally fun? For sure.

Just like at the Saloon and Gumwrappers, BTW found an underused, unsuspecting spot, brought in its party people, and made something out of nothing: Fort Lauderdale ingenuity at its finest. "It's real hard to get people out early," Gallo had told me before his set. "But as long as we don't look at it as 'hard' and just have a good time... I'm having a good time. It looks like everyone else is having a good time."

A glance at the sunshiny crowd — Big Game regulars in Harley shirts and doo-rags, buxom chicks in tight pants and bikini tops, shirtless dudes with pierced nips, rock 'n' roll hipsters in hand-painted button-downs — and it was obvious he was right.

 
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