The fliers started fluttering around downtown Fort Lauderdale about a month ago. Neon pink and fetchingly petite, they promised a flavor of fun heretofore unknown in these humid parts. "Pavement, Pixies!" they shouted. "Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie... and more."
What's this? Have the 21st-century modern-rock cognoscenti finally deigned to haul their critically acclaimed carcasses south of Gainesville?
The short answer: no. But if a couple of young, life-long Broward County residents have anything to say about it, this altrock 'n' roll fantasy might one day become reality.
Six weeks ago Seth Brody and Robby Day of Plantation brought their love of emo-indie punk to Lord Nelson Pub, a British alehouse on Himmarshee Street. Thursday nights there had been dead as driftwood, so the owners didn't see the harm in letting a couple of suburban entrepreneurs with two turntables, a few crates of records, and a dream take over the sound system for a night.
Save for Poptopia, a once-a-month bash held at Shakespeare's Pub in Wilton Manors, the duo's efforts amount to the only way to hear this music outside of record stores and occasionally on WKPX-FM (88.5) and the HoneyComb Website. Where else in town, besides my house, can you hear Sea and Cake?
So far the combination is working. Brody and Day flier their asses off, then spend the evening spinning cooly obscure vinyl for a growing, grateful audience. "The people who love this kind of music drive all over the place to hear it," Day explains, "but it's just not consolidated anywhere, and no one's pulled it all together. There's a ton of people out there waiting for someone to come and pull it all together. There's no reason to not have one spot for them to come."
Though the venue's owners are next to clueless regarding the merits of Modest Mouse, Brody says the evening's popularity is helping Lord Nelson's bottom line: "They were closing at ten o'clock all summer, because it was so slow. Now they're closing at two."
In the context of downtown Lauderdale's pedestrian, middlebrow musical offerings and the dull throngs of yuppie butt-sniffers around Himmarshee, the duo's modest success looks like an achievement. "I got tired of complaining so much about [the status quo]," Brody explains.
"Nobody else was making the effort," Day points out. "I slowly started to see that there's people here who just want something more -- they want better music."
The Thursday-night affair began by pulling in about ten hardy souls its first time, and added about ten each week. "Last week, there were forty people in here," says Day. He admits that doesn't sound like much. "I was expecting more, but when I walked around downtown, the Chili Pepper had eight people. The Poor House had about four."
The lads astutely realized that playing cool records and CDs for a small group of partygoers -- though a great idea for downtown's counterculturally backward cross-section -- was a rather limited prospect. Thus they've decided to expand the scope of their activities. Under the moniker Milk Inc., the pair has now taken over Saturday nights at Lord Nelson and began hosting local bands last Thursday, September 14.
After checking out Davie's Rocking Horse Winner last weekend at Club Q, the Milk men quickly enlisted the outfit to become the first "house band" at the pub. They also drafted another hometown folk-pop act, the Estate, to shore up the scene.
"We went to Kinko's to print up some fliers, and we put the Estate on there," explains Day. "So then we told them, "You guys gotta play; you're already on the flier, and we've already been handing them out!'" The first band night at Lord Nelson drew a decent-size crowd of hipsters (if downtown had bike messengers, this would be their headquarters) as the pub's bartenders looked on with bemused grins -- puzzled but obviously happy to see business booming. When Bonnie, a local singer-guitarist, wandered in off the street and strummed a few impromptu ditties, the crowd was congenial and welcoming, though her two tunes were at least two too many. By midnight about 50 people had transformed the bar into a noisy, twentysomething, instant alternascene. Just add beer! (And they did.) Saturday night with the Rocking Horse Winner, the crowd swelled to twice that size, albeit diluted with fashion victims from Himmarshee's posher-than-thou faction.
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What a happy contrast with the dismal days of early summer. Those who had the misfortune to happen by the pub before an event at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts or as a last stop on a pub crawl, seeing yet another cluster of graying white blues musicians ready to dust off a double set of antique cover tunes, would drink faster in an effort to vacate the venue in time. "The groups were actually driving customers away," says the curly-haired Brody with a wide smile. The new direction is the best thing to happen, musically speaking, to Fort Lauderdale in ages.
Of course it'll take many more pints of English ale, mass quantities of questionable characters, and loads of live bands before Lord Nelson can ever hope to emulate the grimy goodness of Churchill's Hideaway in Miami's Little Haiti. Hell, you can't even toss your peanut shells on the floor at Lord Nelson. Still, our own Churchill's Jr. is exactly what Broward's been begging for, and it certainly beats the drive south.
Day is happy the indie-rock stuff opened the door, but he's itching to broaden the musical palette: "I can't sit here and talk to someone for an hour about Built to Spill, Pavement, Trans Am, Modest Mouse, or Ween," he admits. "I love dance hall reggae and New York style hip-hop. I don't want DMX and all that playing. Maybe some Jurassic 5 or Blackalicious."
While Brody sees the arrangement as leading to something bigger and more permanent, neither he nor his partner -- not to mention the bands involved -- have earned dollar one from the pub. "They don't give us any money, period. But the bands are happy to come out and play for free. I was really impressed by that." Having turned the formerly dead spot into party central two nights a week, Brody greets friends, fans, and folks drifting in with the same benevolent air, hosting his own party, doing the schmooze, social butterflying, and introducing folks. Judging by giddy smiles in the crowd, his enthusiasm is catching.