As a late Wednesday night becomes an early Thursday morning, Angelo Pillitteri -- a lean, long-haired, leather-clad man known for the past 22 years as "Flash" -- takes the stage with his mates in F, the band named after him. Save for a few lines on his face, Flash could have walked right out of the year 1982. His leather jacket is two sizes too small, but that's by choice, not by girth. He looks exactly like an aging rocker -- maybe Klaus Meine from the Scorpions? Or could it be Quiet Riot's Kevin DuBrow? Like both those metal madmen, Flash screams like a banshee and works every inch of the plywood stage, punching the air for emphasis at the end of every song.
Whereas Meine and DuBrow put on a polished MTV-friendly show, the Flash-dance at Churchill's Hideaway is spastic ballet more Iggy Pop than Headbanger's Ball. But it's still star time as F cranks out a set so retro, it's current. The Detroit-inflected rock 'n' roll that makes up the band's first few songs isn't far removed from today's loud 'n' gritty bands like the Mooney Suzuki. But F ain't a bunch of trendy boys in suits. The Norris brothers (Bruce plays bass; Eric smacks the drums) are beefy giants who look like longshoremen. Rob Diaco (guitar) works his Les Paul like a champ, but his proclivity for extended solos doesn't quite fit with 21st-century aesthetics. Halfway through the set, any thought of modernity is thrown to the wind. "Nowhere" is so '80s that it rips off the main riff from the theme to Rocky III. Flash belts out operatic wails that would make King Diamond proud. It's a full-on metal spectacle -- performed to an audience of ten.
After the set, F quietly loads up and prepares for the trip home to Fort Lauderdale. The Hooples, a Hollywood-based punk-rock cover band, take the stage. Singer/guitarist Jimmy Potts cracks: "I'd like to thank the Scorpions for opening for us." But the joke is lost on Flash.
Churchill's Hideaway, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami
Performs at 10 p.m. Thursdays. Call 305-757-1807.
"Flash hasn't changed a bit!" exclaims Leslie Wimmer, who in 1982 placed F's "I Saw Your Vision" on her definitive '80s South Florida punk compilation, The Land That Time Forgot. "He hasn't gained an ounce. He's with the same gal, and he hasn't lost any hair. He has always been incredibly dedicated. He makes the music for himself and himself only. The first time I saw him play, I was amazed. He's so quiet off-stage. He was transformed into this prowling, raging, eagle-eyed, staring maniac. I was like, Wow!"
If South Florida circa 1982 was the land that time forgot, F circa 2003 is the band that time abandoned in a dusty ditch. The band's last prominent gig was opening for the Misfits 20 years ago at Hollywood Beach's long-defunct Finder's Lounge -- a batcave-black hotel bar with a stage built from folding tables, plywood, and carpet. "When you rocked at Finder's, you really rocked!" Flash laughs. F's 2003 CD, F @#$!, is the group's first full-length since 1986's The Prodigy -- a small-scale self-released cassette that was received with so much apathy that Flash kept his material to himself for 17 years. Yet Flash continued to plug away despite umpteen lineup changes (Bruce Norris is the only other F member from the '80s, and he took a 15-year sabbatical) and the pitfalls of playing to ever-diminishing crowds in South Florida, which, save for Churchill's, has never managed to keep a decent rock club open over an extended period of time. How does he do it? And why hasn't he given up on a less-than-successful band he started fresh out of Fort Lauderdale's Stranahan High School?
Why not start a new group?
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"What would I call it? G?" Flash laughs over a Budweiser while sitting at Churchill's deserted patio bar. "I put all my energy into this. It's always just been about keeping the flag flying and keeping the songs. Success is great if it comes. And I'm not going to kill myself if it doesn't."
But if success is "great," doesn't he feel like he's forever pushing a rock up a hill, like Sisyphus? "Only every day of my life," Flash replies. "I regret every second but love every moment. It's definitely a hate/love relationship. It's the biggest pain in the ass and the greatest time ever -- anything else wouldn't be worth it."
Flash gets up and joins Brita, the raven-haired travel-agent girlfriend he's been with "forever." She shares Flash's ability to defy the aging process with both an intact figure and '80s fashion accessories. "Some people get into it only for success," Flash continues, "and that's not exactly the best way to do it. That's all they want out of it, so if they don't get it, they don't get anything out of it. And then it's pretty empty anyway."
Flash and Brita say their goodbyes and head for the door. F's next gig is a Thursday night back at Churchill's -- the only club that allows them to play since Flash punched a mirror at the Culture Room and bled all over the stage. Thursday? Isn't that Rat Bastard's night? Flash replies with a story about the kind of sonic pain that usually goes on at Churchill's on Thursdays. "We have a song called 'Torture.'We torture the audience with nails on the chalkboard and feedback. I think that's where Rat got the idea to do it. Come on out. We'll play it for you."