Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Though the season featured several premieres, the best of the crop was Cruz's steamy, sophisticated saga, with its heady blend of raw emotion and poetic language set against an era of wrenching cultural and political change. Cruz, a Miami native who now lives in New York City, has a sizable national reputation that far outstrips his reputation here -- where, oddly, he is largely ignored. Fortunately, the New Theatre has commissioned yet another Cruz play -- and residency -- for next season. As South Florida struggles to reinvent itself as a sophisticated, world-class community, perhaps it's time for us to recognize that world-class artists such as Cruz are already thriving here.
Legendary in the area's clubs for his cantankerous unpredictability as well as his horn-blowing, saxman Turk Mauro is difficult to ignore. A loud, tough, and brawny guy, Mauro's performances are charged with the kind of physicality usually reserved for young rock acts, whether he's playing with his quartet or on his own. Unfortunately, no one has yet been able to capture his live vibe on tape with any degree of precision, making your best bet catching him one of these nights at O'Hara's Jazz Café in Hollywood. When Mauro breaks out his big baritone sax, it puts a rumble in the room and makes you feel woozier than a strong cocktail. That's a feeling best experienced with a drink in front of you anyway.
Certainly, monster musicianship counts for something. Pygmy -- a frenetic five-piece with members scattered across Miami-Dade County -- has that part sewn up. On the band's new full-length CD, The Council of Important Scientists Say NO!, you'll certainly encounter dancing strings, cocktail chords, bizarrely backward arpeggios, and John Zorn-like arithmetic cacophony, slowing down and speeding up with the out-of-control frenzy of a locomotive descending a steep grade without brakes. But wait, there's more. Pygmy also has the threads. These young Cuban/Dominican/Peruvian/American kids wear blazers, cardigans, polished dress shoes, button-down shirts, and ties on-stage. No mere fashion victims, though, Pygmy is best-known for performances so energetic that band members (and their shoes) separate from the stage like fur flying in a cat fight, feet rarely touching floors. This combination of spastic energy, conflagration potential, unconventional harmonic structures, singer Adames' lean, feline croon, and a penchant for song titles like "Nous Vetement D'Hiver Sont Beaux" make Pygmy the most dangerous -- and worthwhile -- band around. The hunt for these Pygmies is most fruitful at Ray's Downtown in West Palm Beach, Club Q in Davie, the Alley in Miami, or the Factory in Fort Lauderdale.
If somehow you encounter John "the Cop" Eischen and his trusty sidekick Jim "the Other Guy" Harrison playing somewhere that doesn't have a cheap happy hour, wake up and rub the crust from your eyes. You must be dreaming. Guitarist/singer John the Cop and fretless bassist the Other Guy are built for comfort, not speed, and they're built for bars, not theaters, convalescent centers, or gazebos. No, this old (John the Cop recently retired from the Fort Lauderdale police force) Delta blues duo know each other and their loyal, hard-partying fans well enough to know not to mess with a good thing. So one John the Cop and the Other Guy set is pretty much the same as any other, with Robert Johnson, Peatie Wheatstraw, and Muddy Waters tunes served up well-marinated and warm. The sharp, sprightly sound John wrings from his six- and 12-string resonator guitars is so authentic and pure that it practically ensures that you stay until last call. The day these two start doing shows at Starbucks next to the frappuccino and vanilla lattes or inside some snooty wine bar, best check your watch: It's probably time for the world to end. Until then, find 'em at the Downtowner Saloon or the Poor House in Fort Lauderdale. Right where they should be.
"Noise is alive and well in Lake Worth!" proclaims Kenny 5, onetime member of Detroit's infamously ear-splitting Princess Dragon Mom, former proprietor of Lake Worth's now-defunct Downtown Books and CDs, current owner of hippie-trippy head shop/toy store Purple Haze, and famed inventor of the electric grease pan. Now, we fully understand that a baking sheet fished from a trash bin isn't a musical instrument to most people. And we certainly grasp the fact that even after Kenny gets finished with it, it's still not a musical instrument to most people. But with a guitar pickup on one end, a bridge on the other, and 18-gauge steel wire in between, it sure do make a helluva racket. So do his electric surfboard, skateboard, lunchbox, and shoe. He's powerful pleased with that 'lectric skateboard: "Six wheels and a whammy bar!" he says proudly, as if it's a mint-condition Cadillac convertible. When he's not out searching for the ever-elusive Lake Worth Lagoon monster, the "pied piper for crazy art and noise" is making a horrifically pretty din, usually amplified, somewhere in the otherwise calm hamlet.
Perhaps the best South Florida rapper you've never heard, Bolansky has a new CD arriving in stores by the end of May through local rap collective Block Bottom Entertainment. Judging from his past performances on a variety of compilation albums, the Dirty South is about to get a whole lot dirtier, but not in the traditional booty-shakin' way. Bolansky raps about drugs and thugs in the sort of tone that lets you know he draws on personal experience. Time will tell if South Florida is ready to abandon its dance pretenses for some straight-up gangsta flava. Dig?
Twenty-two-year-old South Florida singer/songwriter Isaac Lekach performs and records under the rubric Poulain, with friends lending helping heads, hands, and feet. And Lekach -- a shy guy with sweet, saucer-sized brown eyes and a mop of tousled brown hair -- has plenty of pals to help him fill out his melancholic, wistful ork-pop or dork-pop or whatever his homespun-but-orchestral tunes are called these days. His ear for brooding balladry and gimmick-free love songs has made him South Florida's answer to the Magnetic Fields, evidence of which can be heard on his two upcoming discs: one recorded in Athens, Georgia, with Andy LeMaster (Now It's Overhead, Macha) and another he's working on in L.A. for big-deal indie label Fiddler Records.
Best New Play: Anna in the Tropics