Wild Kingdom

Something cherished goes away, and something new takes its place. Last Sunday night, a rabid crowd bid a cathartic farewell to Awesome New Republic at Churchill's Pub, South Florida's oldest, most venerable rock 'n' roll mecca. Here's the only band that can sound sexy singing "Poody poo poo poo, I got to have it." taking wing to New York and a new life as a ten-piece combo. Falling face first off an amp into his drum kit was the only way M.J. Hancock and partner-in-funk Brian Robertson could've ended their courageous, too-damned-meteoric course through the Miami indie scene. They fucked the sheets right off the bed.

But take heart, music lover: Hope springs eternal. The night before, a block off Atlantic Avenue in Delray, 50 or so indie kids gave a hearty welcome to South Florida's newest, most promising rock 'n' roll institution. Indie record shop Backbone Music has been hosting all-ages shows since opening back in November. Owned by 20-something brothers Nunzio and Rafael Esposito — what, no Donatello and Michelangelo? — Backbone is a risky venture into the world of music retail in an age when kids rock out as much to cell phones as headphones. Along with live music Friday and Saturday nights, the warmly lit, high-ceilinged shop stocks a thousand or so mostly indie-label CDs and several hundred vinyl albums, new and used. The store focuses on current indie rock, hardcore, electronica, and underground hip-hop back catalog albums. In other words, Ten Yard Fight, yes. Five for Fighting, no.

Like the grizzly bear, the whale shark, and the straight-shooting VP, the independent record store is so rare these days that most South Floridians have never actually seen one. Many believe they don't even exist, driven to extinction by corporate predators like FYE, Best Buy, and (shudder) Wal-Mart. The Espositos are here as conservationists.


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"It's definitely a dying industry," says older bro Nunzio. "So many independent music stores have gone out of business in the last five years. But there's a nostalgia that people miss. Everyone thinks that CDs will be obsolete, but not only that, a music cartridge or disc of any sort will be obsolete in the next ten years. But I think you'll always have some people who wanna have cover art, lyrics, and all that."

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Along with music, Backbone places a strong emphasis on the social role of the record store. A coffee and espresso bar sits in one rear corner, facing a chill zone complete with funky vintage furniture in the other. Local art adorns the wall above an upright piano, which is flanked by other musical instruments for jamming. Don't expect to encounter the stereotypical Jack Black, High Fidelity record snoot here.

"We're not the type of place where we're pushing people out," Nunzio says. "We want people to come hang out and feel comfortable."

The Espositos moved from Connecticut to Coral Springs with their folks back in the early '90s. Nunzio's first job as a high school freshman was with Spec's Music, and he later worked at Uncle Sam's in Plantation until he left for college in Gainesville. Graduating with a degree in elementary education somehow landed him in culinary school, which he attended in New York. After a short stint in Boston, he settled into a cush job chefing in California's gourmand wine country. But when he and his wife decided to have a kid, they moved back to Broward to be closer to his family.

"That was probably the hardest decision I've had to make in my life," Nunzio says. "But it's amazing how life turns out."

One night, while cooking at a local restaurant, Nunzio and the kitchen crew were rocking out to Minor Threat. "I asked them if they had heard Fugazi, and they had no idea who they were," he says. "I'm like, 'Oh my God, are you kidding me?'" He wanted to introduce his coworkers to the D.C. hardcore band's first album, 13 Songs, but didn't own it himself. "I drove all the way up to Boynton Beach and drove all the way back, past Delray into Boca, like, 'There's gotta be a music store.' I drove around for an hour and half. And I went into work and I was like, 'There's no music store?' And they were like, 'No, there's no music store. You have to go to the mall.' The next day, I go into FYE. I was shocked as shit, but they had it. But it was like $19.99! I bought it anyhow, and I remember going home at the end of the night so annoyed, and my wife was like, 'You should just open a music store. '"

A few months later, with the help of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and after the brothers built the interior by hand, Backbone had a home.

"From the moment we got to Delray, I was like, this is the closest thing to the West Coast for me," Nunzio says. "You can actually walk around. A lot of parts of South Florida, people don't walk around, and it loses its social quality, acknowledging other people. It seems like the people that live here have always wanted a good music store, and it just never happened."

So now, as the Blues Explosion spins on the CD player on a lazy Sunday, the day after Backbone's latest live showcase, the afternoon before ANR's big departure, it seems that a tenuous balance has returned in the South Florida musical ecosystem. "It's a great thrill too, doing live music," Nunzio says. "Most of the bands we've had have been established, but we've had one really young band. It was such a great feeling — they were playing out for the first time and just seeing the excitement and their friends going crazy. It was just like, I'm doing the right thing. This is great."

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