As downtown Fort Lauderdale struggled to find a foothold anywhere outside the staid, stifling ennui of pointless yuppiedom, a few brave young men set up an indie-rock shop right in the heart of Cover Band/Disco City. They fought for your inalienable right to hear Built to Spill on godforsaken Himmarshee Street (where the median IQ of its sidewalk-crawling masses drops several points during the season). They brought in live acts who didn't play Harry Chapin covers. But a change in attitude at Lord Nelson Pub recently removed the emo/indie warriors of Milk, Inc., whose presence had given the place a real edge over its downtown competition.
This ouster doesn't render indie rock homeless for good; the estimable Duncan Cameron is all prepared to let the Milk boys take over his Shed Records store and outdoor courtyard at 901 Progresso Drive on Thursday nights, starting this evening. Milk's Seth Brody isn't stopping there, either. "If I can find, say, a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale, we can get a little Churchill's-type scene going," he promises.
The Milk/Lord Nelson alliance didn't seem doomed even a few weeks ago. Several nights the odd mix appeared to be working: An early-November Saturday-night showcase featuring the Rocking Horse Winner drew a throng of novices from the street, many of whom were understandably captivated and curious about the earnest young group. These passersby notwithstanding, Brody (who, with his partner Robby Day, had been in charge of the Thursday- and Saturday-night fun at Lord Nelson since Milk's inception in August) admits that the crowd he drew wasn't indigenous to late-night SW Second Street.
"They were coming from points abroad, the suburbs and so forth," Brody says. "It wasn't like, "Oh, I was on my way to the Ugly Tuna and I thought I'd stop in.'"
But as the pub began to bustle with a more "normal" seasonal clientele, the Milk enterprise began to curdle. One harbinger of the brewing conflict happened a few weeks ago when a regular indie-rock patron crashed through the plate glass window of a neighboring business.
This bit of barely Milk-related nastiness dovetailed with a change in management at the tavern. Brody says he soon found out that Lord Nelson wasn't ready for a schism between twentysomethings and fiftysomethings. And the pub was determined to hold on to the latter.
Brody understands that Lord Nelson's owners have a right to keep any type of pub they choose, and he offers kind words to Robin Brisland, the pub's long-time proprietor. But Brody was informed of the new direction, he says, after he'd already gone to the trouble of booking bands from Tampa and Gainesville to play Lord Nelson last weekend and the coming one. (Both shows were canceled.) And he points out that the evening of Saturday, November 27, featuring local punk-pop rising stars the Getaway Plan and Sunday Driver, brought more than 100 fans. Following that apparent success, Brisland phoned Brody and fired him, claiming that the new management was unimpressed with his efforts.
"He said, "Never come back -- I never want to see you again.' He basically was a total dick to me," Brody claims, adding, "I'm grateful for the opportunity he gave me, but if anyone's going to be unprofessional in this, it should be me, because I'm not a professional. And that guy was completely unprofessional. That's no way to treat anybody."
Brisland, for his part, almost sounds as though he's sorry to see Milk, Inc. go.
"I can't speak high[ly] enough of Seth and Robby; they did a bloody good job," he says in his proper British accent. "They know their business; they know the music scene and the emerging bands. Seth is very good at doing his promoting. Everything he ever said he would do, he did. It's just that I've decided I want to go in a different direction. I was watching where it was going -- it was getting bigger all the time. That's great. But that's not for my pub."
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That's certainly Brisland's prerogative as owner, but keep in mind this is a man who claims, "I don't like rock 'n' roll, but I'm hardly expected to; I'm 57 years old." On weekends throughout the tourist maelstrom of the next few months, Brisland's place may well be packed, though probably not with those eagerly following the exploits of a house jazz band he could recall only as "the Jonathan Something Trio." But for those seeking anything downtown offering a hip alternative to the predictable cover-band circuit, Lord Nelson will be a place of little value, except possibly to procure a quick pint of Old Speckled Hen, a British ale certain to stimulate growth of chest hair.
We're tempted to berate Brisland for his change of heart, and not just because Bandwidth enjoys the same kind of music as the Milksters do. It might turn out to be a bad business move: The Milk nights brought in plenty of customers, and we can testify that many of those patrons were over 30, or even 40, years old. And it should be noted that Bandwidth has personally met 60-year-olds who like rock music. But ancient-before-his-time Brisland actually makes a good case, damn him.
"There's nothing wrong with the music." he continues, "It's just not my choice. I mean, look at my pub: It suits older people. I'm an older person. It's not really a young person's place. I'd like to have all my old customers and all my new customers, but the two weren't mixing too well. You can't be all things to all men."
I know this much: Lord Nelson on a Milk night was fun. Lord Nelson on a non-Milk night often involves 45-year-olds playing "Sweet Home Alabama." And as mundane as that reality is, it's unfortunately par for the course. Asking for something a little less predictable along downtown's West End is evidently asking too much. And in hindsight, it was too good to be true. The first Thursday night after Milk's canning was business as usual at Lord Nelson with Jimmy Buffett on the jukebox and a total of four customers (not including the Bandwidth entourage) in the place. By 10:30 p.m. it had become too painful: We beat a hasty retreat into the chill of the night air, extinguishing a shared clove cigarette as we wept for what might have been.