The six members of the Broward/Miami-Dade combo See Venus like to describe their heady sound as somewhere between Brian Wilson and Stereolab. Damn them, but we can't think of a more accurate comparison. Venus' space-age, bachelor-pad music is at once futuristic and retro, impossibly cool, and uncommonly catchy. Leader Christopher Moll began strolling down the pop path in the early '90s with his band Twenty-Three, but the full-bodied sound of See Venus seems to be what he's been striving for; with six members cavorting about with horns, keyboards, samplers, basses, and guitars, little white space exists on the band's crowded canvas. The sweet vocals of Rocky Ordoñez and Erica Boynton combine and captivate, making the melodious "Shine Like Stars" and the bouncy, Brazilian "Boy Bubble Blue" must-have confections. Find the band creating its magic at venues like Tobacco Road and Respectable Street.

Straddling the line between high art and unadulterated, lowbrow, cover-band fun, Fort Lauderdale's Hashbrown appeals to hard-rockers, hip-hop heads, and fans of Parliament-style funk. The quartet is adept at kicking down a thickened, spicy, funked-up, urbane rock that's guaranteed to make your booty move and your mind follow. But the dance floor isn't the only place to enjoy Hashbrown: Plenty of the Velcro-strength hooks on tracks such as the rambunctious "HOD" and the silky "Over & Done" from their new Fuzzy Logic CD have the staying power of an all-day lollipop. Bassist-singer Jay Spencer is fully in charge of the nonstop hip-hop 'n' roll. Guitarist Duncan Cameron serves up obtuse, jazzy chords to add a bit of a professorial air. Drummer Rick Kanner dishes out never-ending, party-style beats. And DJ Boogie Waters is Hashbrown's secret weapon, piping a stream of vinyl samples atop the groovalicious funk. Catch the band at the Poor House most weekend nights or at the Surf Cafe in Boca Raton.
Boca Raton resident Chris Carrabba is a newfangled hybrid in the acoustic singer/songwriter mold. Though he uses roughly the same approach Woody Guthrie employed during dust bowl days, he's updated the formula slightly. Using the name the Dashboard Confessional, Carrabba strums unplugged, emo-punk anthems that connect on a gut level with his teenage and twentysomething audiences. The new Dashboard Confessional full-length CD, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, delivers the heart-on-the-sleeve, poignant lyrics with which his fans often sing along, as in "Again I Go Unnoticed": "So what's another day/When I can't bear these nights/Of thoughts of going on without you." You can find Carrabba touring the nation with the likes of Snapcase or Face to Face or witness him in stool-perching mode at Ray's Downtown Blues.

The Music Lesson dismantled the myth that good drama must arise from a dramatic situation. In this play by Tammy Ryan, a couple of musicians, Irena and Ivan, take refuge in Pittsburgh from war-torn Sarajevo and end up giving music lessons to American children from a broken family. What made Florida Stage's production exceptional was the acting, featuring the talents of Maggi St. Clair Melin, Jessica K. Peterson, Joris Stuyck, Elizabeth Dimon, Amy Love, Ashton Lee, Craig D. Ames, Eddi Shraybman, and Ethel Yari. The alienation and suffering these characters felt moved through the audience like slow ether, emanating from their simplest gestures. In fact the play is a gestural masterpiece, with all the action centering around an invisible piano. More than a metaphor, classical music becomes a tangible character, so that The Music Lesson is not just another account of human tragedy desensitized by a flood of overt emotion and sentimentality; it is a moving account of people trying to rebuild their lives.

We laughed. We cried. We begged for more. Then we saw Muvico Parisian 20 and realized we could never go back to another theater. While the trend-setting Fort Lauderdale-based theater chain's other South Florida multiplexes -- its Egyptian-themed temple of film in Pembroke Pines, its salute to the '50s in Pompano Beach, and its palatial tip of the hat to Addison Mizner in Boca Raton -- are impressive, its Parisian 20 in CityPlace is truly the pièce de résistance. Originally sold to the public as a French opera house, the theater has been described in the company's recent press releases as a movie chateau. Whatever they call it, this place is as eye-popping as anything on the silver screen. With sweeping staircases, intricate molding, and sky blue walls adorned with white columns, wainscoting, and hand-painted murals of Rubenesque cherubs, the lobby is nothing if not stunning. Popcorn in this theater? Au contraire. While it is on the menu, theatergoers can feast on things besides the usual snack bar fare, including quesadillas, shrimp, and, in the upstairs bar, sushi and pan bellos. But the real treat comes not from hearing, smelling, or tasting a thing but, when the lights dim and you sit back in a comfortable rocking chair with plenty of leg room, from realizing no one's head is in the way. As they say in Paris, ahhh.
Eduardo Chacon
For much of its half-century history, the Boca Raton Museum of Art was crammed into a woefully inadequate structure on Palmetto Park Road -- an acoustically atrocious set of galleries that was hardly worthy of the extensive holdings. Under the stewardship of long-time executive director George S. Bolge, the museum built a solid track record of creative programming, but there was no getting around it: the building sucked. That changed in January, when the new and improved Boca Raton Museum of Art opened at its spacious, not to mention gorgeous, new digs at the northern end of Mizner Park. With 44,000 square feet and two levels, the museum now has a showcase not only for major exhibitions such as its inaugural Picasso retrospective but also for displays drawn from its permanent collection, which includes pre-Columbian art, African art, English ceramics, modern and contemporary European and American art, photography, and a world-class collection of prints.
What once was a place to fill up your tank is now a place to get tanked. Bill's Filling Station, for six years a popular fixture in a converted gas station, fills up every day after work with regular Joes (the gay ones, anyway) enjoying two-fers till 9 p.m. -- and all night on Monday. A cozy patio and bar out back make smoking easier and less offensive, and a well-stocked CD jukebox inside near the main bar keeps the place alive with music. Doesn't matter what you wear, how old you are, or from which side of the tracks you hail; the other friendly faces may not know your name, but pretty soon they'll at least know your taste in men. Speaking of tracks, Bill's is next to the railroad line that cuts through gay-friendly Lake Ridge, and the occasional passing train means shots are just 50 cents. That makes it easy to tie one on.
If work and other commitments prevent you from catching concerts by AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Van Halen, or Aerosmith, fret not; Fort Lauderdale hosts one of these dinosaurs, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, almost every week. If you're tired of Axl Rose lying low for years at a time, you can stoke your fire with Paradise City, a Guns N' Roses look-and-sound-alike act. Run Like Hell makes a mint performing the songs of Pink Floyd. And you'll never have to worry who Van Halen's hired as its new screamer when you go to see tribute act Fair Warning. Fort Lauderdale's perennially cheesy Metal Factory is the oasis for these imitators of the woolly mammoths and mastodons of the music world.
A lot of folks sit around and wonder why up-and-coming bands don't make it to South Florida. Sure, lots of local bands appear in our clubs and bars. And we get the occasional hit-maker playing at an arena or amphitheater. But what about all those groups that are popular and receive plenty of radio airtime yet couldn't fill an arena if their collective lives depended on it? Where are they? Well, one of the biggest problems was the lack of a midsize venue. Orbit has solved this predicament, at least for the foreseeable future. Once an unpretentious Winn-Dixie, it reopened last November as a sprawling nightclub with more than enough floor space for our favorite entertainers. Another bonus to the place is that it doesn't stick to one genre. The list of bands that have come to Orbit is vast and varied, including Thin Lizzy, Insane Clown Posse, the Psychedelic Furs, Paul Oakenfold, the Orb, and the Specials. Given the club's success to date, Orbit may be the impetus for a new wave.

If you get your kicks by hurtling toward the earth at more than 120 miles per hour from an altitude of about two and a half miles -- and who doesn't? -- Skydive America is your kind of place. But it'll cost you: as much as $159 for the jump. (Find four or more friends foolish enough to accompany you, and the price drops to $139 each.) What does it get you? A short video screening on what you're about to experience, a personal briefing from the instructor to whom you'll be harnessed, and then the jump: 65 seconds of free fall followed by another four to six minutes of "canopy flight" after you (or your instructor) deploy the parachute. Your view will include Lake Okeechobee and the sugar cane fields of western Palm Beach County. Factor in another $79 if you want to document the look of terror on your face with a video and still photos. And if you're too giddy to drive back home after all this, $20 will get you a night at nearby Clouds Edge Ranch, a 3.5-acre complex of air-conditioned bunkhouses, campgrounds, showers, kitchen facilities, and a pool. They'll even throw in a towel and soap.

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