In the narrow, gravelly parking lot of the Billabong Pub in Pembroke Park, a visibly intoxicated young man makes a joke about being on the wrong side of the tracks. The pub is indeed in a strip mall on the west side of ties that cross Hallandale Beach Boulevard. That doesn't necessarily make it the wrong side, though it is right across from a mammoth strip club called Scarlett's and is nestled next door to a "massage parlor" called Mandy's.
On this breezy Saturday night, the 'Bong, a place that offers a dizzying array of beers, is packed for the Holy Terrors CD release. The sweet sounds of Humbert drift out the front door as people walk in and out, and the four members of Bling Bling -- singer and guitarist Ivan Marchena, guitarist Jonathan Jaffee, bassist Kristina Miranda, and drummer Ed Artigas -- stand in the parking lot talking about the first concert they ever went to.
The amiable Jaffee divulges his first: "Mine was the Thompson Twins." A round of "ooohs" follows.
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Artigas ups the ante: "Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam at the Beat Club in Kendall" -- another chorus of "ooohs" -- "but my first stadium concert was Van Halen in 1984 at the Hollywood Sportatorium."
A woman standing nearby overhears the conversation and adds her two cents, "I saw Prince on Easter Sunday during the Purple Rain tour, and everyone was appalled!"
The band erupts into bad Prince impersonations, the laughter subsiding just in time for Marchena's attempt at the Purple One: "Ladies and gentlemen," he says, pausing sensually, "let's give it up... for Eastah."
The beginnings of the Bling started in the summer of 2001 in Miami. All four members had been in previous South Florida bands, and Artigas was already a figure in the indie scene as founder of Spy-Fi Records, the label he started in 1998, which released albums from local bands like Monotract, Whirlaway, Machete, and Zira, as well as Bling Bling's 2001 album, Always Give Candy to Strangers.
"[Miranda] called me up and told me she was on summer break from nursing school and asked if we could play," Artigas recalls. "So we started playing, and [Jaffee] had played with me before, so now all we were missing was the front man. I remembered this guy," he says, pointing at Marchena, "so I called him up to ask what he was doing, and he said..."
"Nothing," Marchena deadpans. "Working at a friggin' mortgage place, making copies.
"And I was like, 'OK, Ed. I'll be there tomorrow. See ya. '"
The conversation again dissolves into a mélange of "I remember when..."s, which happens often among these four friends. Someone asks Jaffee if he was ever a raver, and everyone bursts into laughter at the mention of the archaic word. The stream of nostalgia then flows into the first albums they bought.
"It was a 'Rapper's Delight' 12-inch, but it melted in my car, so I had to return it and get the Knack," Artigas says.
Marchena, with a straight face, replies, "It was a 45... 'Too Shy' by Kajagoogoo. Oh, I bought the Fletch soundtrack too."
"Mine was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack," Jaffee adds with an even straighter face.
"My brother and I used to listen to Chaka Khan and the Fat Boys," Miranda says. "But the first album I bought myself was a tape, and it was Guns 'N Roses' Appetite for Destruction." Marchena mentions he hopes Axl's hair extensions get caught in a door.
Bling Bling's music matches the energetic dialogue -- the songs are poppy, angular uppercuts that make contact with the frantic, pointed snarl of bands like the Pixies or Television. Diary of a... , Bling Bling's latest album, is 12 pages filled with vibrating bass lines, ass-shaking drum beats, and the swerving, interlocked axes of Marchena and Jaffee on songs like "10-4 on the Makeout," "Garb for an Age," and "Blade of the Made."
"We all contribute to writing songs," Artigas says. "We all put something in and stick it in a blender and see what comes out. We did [the album] on analog tape in about a week in North Carolina. We recorded 15 songs after driving 16 hours."
"And a lot of those songs were new," Marchena continues. "So we'd only played them a few times. But I think it was really cool that the songs were fresh. I like the one-take approach -- gives it more character. Integrity, even."
"Well, that was how our first album was recorded," Artigas says, "but mostly because we were a new band, and if you don't have something to promote, your band stays stagnant. The songs were brand new, but we had the technology to go ahead and throw stuff down."
"We write a song every rehearsal, but we throw it out," Marchena laughs.
"We're not looking for a major record label deal," Artigas sums up. "We're not looking to tour nonstop. We're not looking for billions of dollars. I just want to get better as a band."
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As folks leave the Billabong to continue the night elsewhere, one final topic must be broached: love songs -- which ones get them in the mood? As the question is asked, a train rattles by, obscuring the inspirational view of Scarlett's. Songs are fired off: "This Must Be the Place" by the Talking Heads, "All the Way" by Richard Hell, "Down Low" by R. Kelly, "Pumps and a Bump" by MC Hammer, "Da' Dip" by Freak Nasty, "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones, "Come and Talk to Me" by Jodeci. An amusing silence passes as four brains try to think of other songs they might get busy to.
"I would say the theme song from Family Ties," Marchena adds.
"No," Artigas says, "The Love Boat."
At that moment, the Holy Terrors tear into their set inside, and Bling Bling collaborates on an off-key rendition of the theme song to The Love Boat there in the parking lot. Being on the wrong side of the tracks isn't so bad.