Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Michael McKeever is probably the South Florida theater community's MVP this year. He writes plays. He acts in plays. He designs sets. Oh, and the playbills you use to fan yourself? It's very likely he designed their covers. Hand of God, McKeever's new play about Catholic priests could, in theory, make you wince from the possibility of bringing out the clergy's dark secrets. But the play is really about introspection and the miracle of kindness in daily human interaction, which makes Hand of God almost feel warmly out of time, the same way that gentle chess-playing priests bantering in a sunlit rectory also seem to be from another time. This sense of slowing down, of deliberate thought, and of welcoming the unexpected in life, binds the play together. If you were from someplace frigid, like New England (or, for that matter, Palm Beach County), you could say that Hand of God feels like the first warm day of spring, when you can sit in the sun on the grass and talk with your friends after a long, cold winter inside.
When you're a busy chef/restaurateur and a father of four, the swingin' nightlife is pretty much limited to sticking your nose in a saucepan. Extracurricular entertainment or museum browsing? That's pretty much limited to a few stolen hours with the kids on an off-day afternoon. Kevin McCarthy, proprietor of KM at the Grapevine in Plantation, stumbled into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame in Dania Beach one day with his kids -- all of them under 12 -- and discovered a serendipitously harmonious environment. "All of our relatives are big fishermen, and the kids related the place to going out to a pond with their uncles and cousins," says McCarthy, known for his dazzlingly original, Southwest-influenced entrées and desserts. The family has been back numerous times since. The place is a symphony of anglerphilia (love of fishing), with mounts of world-record sport fish floating overhead in eye-popping formation, touchscreen displays of the exploits of famed fishermen (like Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey), and fishing-related games and toys. There's the outdoor Wetlands Walk, meticulously constructed wilderness environments, and, the McCarthy kids' favorite, the Catch Gallery. Here's where "fishing simulators" give you a sense of what it's like to catch a marlin or a sailfish. "The kids flip out every time we go by the building now," McCarthy says.
We will not use this space to lament the loss of Awesome New Republic to the lure of the Big Apple and that distraction from music-making called "a normal life." (OK, just this space: Come back! Please, we need you! Like the Heat needs Shaq!) But there's no doubt about it: There hasn't been anything as original as ANR's jazzo-pop electrofunk soul-boogie that's come out of the South Florida music scene since, well, maybe ever. The band went through several iterations before rouletting into the two-man, drums-n-keys format found on its full-length debut, ANR So Far. And two is definitely better than one or five or seven or even 69 in this case. Find a song more hilarious and on-point than "Kill South Beach Dead" or effortlessly hummable than "Wheels, No Engine" -- made by anyone, let alone a pair of young UM virtuosi -- and, um, I guess you'll have another entry into this Best Of category. Our money says there's nobody out there anywhere that's doing smart, funny freak-pop better than these two. Yeah, it's sad to see them go, but at least we have ANR So Far to remember them by.
A seriously tough call had to be made in this category this year, as South Florida underground hip-hop took some major strides toward a consistent, quality sound. Neck and neck at the front of the pack were Lauderdale's verbal acrobat Butta Verses and Hollywood freestyle general Wrekonize. Both MCs are definite crowd-pleasers, confident and aggressive on stage yet flaunting a wicked and often self-deprecating sense of humor. Both have climbed their way through the local scene, gaining national attention but continuing to respect their subtropical roots. And both have taken that personal experience -- Butta's kinship with De La Soul and the Native Tongues clan; Wrek's dominance of MTV's 2004 freestyle battle -- and churned out track after track of streetwise insight into life just short of the big leagues. Stylistically, the two counter each other beautifully: Where Butta's unpredictable, hopscotchy flow is risky and often thrilling, Wrekonize stays perfectly on-point, smoothing out the beat like a warm iron over a silk shirt. So what gives Wrekonize the edge? It's his spectacular Waiting Room mixtape, a supertight showcase of every reason why this 22-year-old is major-label material. It's the best local hip-hop release of the year, and that makes Wrek our hip-hop artist of the year.
So the Galapagos of the music world (i.e., the bottom three counties of Florida, gentle readers) produces a band that combines ridiculously heavy guitar riffage by way of Maiden, AC/DC, and Black Flag with the number-one soul/metal drummer in the area and tops it off with gang-warfare-style live shows. Good God, yes! Tim Moffatt, Tyson Griffin, Chris Maggio, and Russ Saunders go on a few tours and, after a few years of nearly constant gigging and even more constant drinking, promptly implode, never having produced a proper release. Oh Lord, no. Welcome to the South Florida music scene, Charles Darwin. We eat our young.
In 2004, there wasn't a band in town that thought it would ever perform at a bikini bar called Gumwrappers. But in 2006, many of those bands have already played there... and continue to do so on a near regular basis. These aren't testosterone-fueled, cock-rock bands we're talking about. Nope. Gumwrappers regulars include female-backed groups like Friendly Fire and makeup-clad goth rockers like Death Becomes You -- not the kind of people who hang around frat parties. However, what's most surprising is that the whole thing took off the way it did. When Gumwrappers held its first live music night in January 2005 (featuring Southern Flaw and Trapped by Mormons), the odds were stacked against it lasting more than a few months; the idea of babes and bands seemed like a novelty that would soon lose its charm. Now, the shows are such a fixture, the bikini show is held only when the bands aren't playing. And thanks to the tireless efforts of Cherry Sonic Promotions, the local rock scene has found a new home.