The Search for Cool
The lucky bastards around the rest of the country feel the onset of fall's temperance movement, but down here there's no hope. A tease of a breeze isn't enough to stop the sweaty trickles that begin the moment the air loses its conditioner. Stepping outside during the day feels as if a hot, wet terry-cloth towel has been draped over your head. Walking the perimeter of the Gateway Plaza shopping center on Saturday afternoon in search of the grand opening of CD Collector and its promised assortment of 45s and rare imports (plus live performances from Humbert, Zach Ziskin, and the New Graduates), Bandwidth felt the dreaded clamminess set in as both spirits and shirts quickly dampened. The space -- between a pet store selling jewel-encrusted doggy dishes and a Thai restaurant -- wasn't even twitching, newspaper still covering its plate-glass windows. When I later called CD Collectors' number, a recording mentioned early October for the revised opening.
Hours later, it felt a few degrees cooler -- barely --when Ziskin got his chance to drop his easygoing, earnest, and lightweight pop at the Billabong. By the bar near the front door, where the a/c didn't penetrate, we relied on icy glasses of Hoegaarden White, Chimay Blue, and Orval for core-cooling. No crap on tap, indeed. "Duncan Sheik" someone said in response to Ziskin's set, or maybe it was "Duncan Hines"... or was it "Gregory Hines"? Ziskin, who came up through local-folkie songwriting circles and SunFest spots, often slips into penetrating falsetto mode (so far, the best item on his pupu platter) to impressive effect. The Derek Cintron 3, providing a sturdy backing, sounded impeccable as usual. Ziskin's debut, Real as the Memory, applies that winning voice to a decent set of strong, hand-whittled tunes. Not exactly my thing, but...
Sunday afternoon wasn't much better, with proposed legislation to ban long pants and vinyl car seats easily making it through a Bandwidth subcommittee. Among the best places historically to beat the heat, the ArtServe space in the library on East Sunrise Boulevard is a culture safehouse amid the horror of luxury-car dealerships and one-hour photo shops. ArtServe held a small show for Indian dhrupad vocalist Uday Bhawalkar, and the small auditorium was blessed with mobile air-conditioning units sporting directional vents to kept the crowd in comfort during the long, trance-inducing ragas.
For the first hour of the concert, nothing disturbed the low drone of the tamboura (a fretless lute played by just barely stroking its four strings). Bhawalkar's deep voice droned just below the tamboura's spectrum, at times even lower than the wet, thick thump of the tabla that eventually came in after the meditative, devotional mood had been cemented. Dhrupad, characterizing the oldest and most spiritual aspects of Indian classical music, has much in common with the low, rumbling sustain of Tuvan throat singing, with rich, deep overtones that descend to the sub-cellar of discernible pitch, at times sounding almost like a synthesizer. The contemplative relaxation created by Bhawalkar's music was broken only by his brief introductions ("In this raga, one person is trying to pray, and another person comes in and is disturbing them"), scattered applause, and, of course, ringing cell phones, even from sari-clad Indian women.
The Association of Performing Arts of India regularly brings to Fort Lauderdale performers who provide a necessary esoteric, non-Western tonic, but the tickets for the Bhawalkar recital mentioned a "light dinner" -- which last time (Lakshmi Shankar on August 24) included naan and veggie pakoras but this time was reduced to Chex Party Mix and sweetened chai. Hot tea? Long pants? Yeeesh.
For true cool, Sunday night's Bright Eyes show at the Manuel Artime Performing Arts Center in Miami's Little Havana was unbeatable -- the icy forced air making its way up into the balcony and sweetly seeping between the sweater-wearing, lovey-dovey, indie-rock kids who packed the old church. Bandleader Conor Oberst and his stageful of talented young Nebraskans were as cool as could be: When all 14 spread out the smorgasbord of instruments, including bassoon, flute, melodica, mandolin, hammered dulcimer, pedal steel guitar, banjo, vibes, timpani, trumpet, triangle, and tuba, Bright Eyes looked like a beer-drinking band class let loose at an alternative high school. The sound mix was inevitably flawed -- too snare heavy, and some instruments were buried under the wall of sound -- but Oberst flopped, flailed, and mumbled his way through what very likely will come to be regarded as the show of the year.
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