In 2004, there wasn't a band in town that thought it would ever perform at a bikini bar called Gumwrappers. But in 2006, many of those bands have already played there... and continue to do so on a near regular basis. These aren't testosterone-fueled, cock-rock bands we're talking about. Nope. Gumwrappers regulars include female-backed groups like Friendly Fire and makeup-clad goth rockers like Death Becomes You -- not the kind of people who hang around frat parties. However, what's most surprising is that the whole thing took off the way it did. When Gumwrappers held its first live music night in January 2005 (featuring Southern Flaw and Trapped by Mormons), the odds were stacked against it lasting more than a few months; the idea of babes and bands seemed like a novelty that would soon lose its charm. Now, the shows are such a fixture, the bikini show is held only when the bands aren't playing. And thanks to the tireless efforts of Cherry Sonic Promotions, the local rock scene has found a new home.
The joint is more than 50 years old -- virtually pre-Columbian by Broward standards -- and landmark enough that when the New York Times wrote a national story about the success of Fahrenheit 9/11, it included a large photo of the half-block queue beneath that marvelous marquee. How to stay prominent and relevant for five decades in this land of perpetual flux? Keeping the fare fresh, for starters, and participating in the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. It also provides a friendly staff, a location within piggy-backing distance of post-film beers, coffee, and sushi, a lobby bulletin board where viewers praise or flay just-seen movies (such a human touch), and the so-called "World's Greatest Popcorn" (which it must be, for who would claim such otherwise?). The capper for Gateway is its woolly lineup, a blend of big-budget blowouts beside brilliant blips: The Aristocrats, Gay Sex in the '70s, Transamerica, The Corporation, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The Station Agent, etc. Chances are, any recent movie you actually mulled after its final credits you had to go to Miami Beach or the Gateway to view.
So you're hoping to catch an early movie before the usual Friday night club-hopping -- it's like the calm before the storm. But then you remember how much a buzzkill movie theaters can be, what with the crowded quarters, Pepsi-encrusted floors, and high-priced tickets. Ah, but there is a place where films are shown under the open sky, where you can bring your own grime-free chair, and the box office is nonexistent. It's Friday Night Flicks at Old School Square, the monthly freebie for filmgoers who want some fresh air and free cinema. Of course, you don't have to supply your own seating; two-dollar chair rentals are available before the show, as are popcorn, soda, and candy -- just like at the theater. The difference is, your shoes won't get stuck to the ground halfway through the film. From April to August, films begin at 8:30 p.m.; from September to March, it's an hour earlier. Some of this year's flicks include Top Gun, Blues Brothers 2000, and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but without the long lines and grown men and women dressed in Jedi gear.
Nine times out of ten, battle-of-the-bands competitions don't mean dick. If the judges aren't clueless industry hacks or buddies with one of the bands, the categories seem straight out of a high school talent show. (Audience participation? What, should they play "Kum Ba Yah"?) But when the Freakin' Hott won the National Production Group's "Champions of Rock" contest last April, it was because of one thing and one thing only -- the Freakin' Hott freakin' rocks. And it does so with the barest of bare-bones structures -- two vocalists, one guitar, and a drum kit. There's no rack of space-age effects... not even a bass guitar. (OK, so there is a keyboard on the band's latest recordings, but it's not synth.) What the band does have, however, are incredibly catchy songs (think '60s-styled pop), loose and loud guitar riffs (think '70s-style glam-rock), and an ability to fuse the two into a sound all its own. It's the kind of music that makes you want to hum along and play air guitar.
When Marthin Chan and Jose Tillan formed Popvert in 2002, they knew that finding the right vocalist for their meticulous melodies could be a make-or-break decision. That's why choosing former Rocking Horse Winner vocalist Jolie Lindholm was a no-brainer. More than just a pretty face who can carry a tune (and who previously carried backup tunes for Dashboard Confessional), Lindholm not only hits the right notes; she hits them in all the right ways, balancing her roles as the group's lead instrument and its personality. It's a precarious task, but Lindholm has it down to a science, seamlessly alternating moods between dreamy and somber, effervescent and bold, all the while adding a human touch to the synth-driven orchestrations. Popvert might have left its fans hungry after releasing its brief, four-song EP in 2004 (Drive Thru Happiness). But 2006 sees the group back in the studio, this time for a full-length album. It'll be well worth the wait.
Whether Brendan Grubb is dishing out eclectic, experimental IDM as the Wicked Dream Foundation, spinning a set of avant-garde electronica as DJ iregrettoinformyouyouhavetwomonthstolive, or buying your used Interpol albums at CD Warehouse in Pembroke Pines, the guy does his stuff with style. Wicked Dream Foundation has been going strong for the past two years, releasing two EPs and a full-length in 2005 on Grubb's own Junque imprint. Live or on tape, a typical WDF set unfolds like a laptop-manipulated soundscape, weaving together minimalist acoustic-electric guitar, danceable beats, voice demolition, thumb piano, barely there experimentalism, and anything else he can fit in, though sometimes the Hollywood-based Grubb is known to treat audiences to an all-analog set if the mood is right. Thanks to his ceaseless work ethic, Grubb's music has risen to the top of two counties. Wicked dreams indeed.
On an average night at Churchill's Pub in Miami, there are anywhere from six to 16 bands playing on the indoor and outdoor stages. For most groups, that potential to divide crowds can put a damper on their performance. But for the carefree, life-of-the-party characters in the Fabulous ShuttleLOUNGE, the solution is simple: set up wherever the people are, stage or no stage. Fronted by the Amazing Dik Shuttle (yes, the guy who looks like the Big Lebowski), ShuttleLOUNGE couldn't care less about vocal monitors or drum risers. The LOUNGE knows that wherever it plays, the people will come. And the people will love it. Why? For starters, these cats are real musicians, cleverly reworking the most unlikely tunes as lounge numbers. Ever wondered what Modest Mouse would sound like in Vegas? No? Well, that's just too bad, because sooner or later, this shuttle's coming to your local lounge. And you'll never view rock 'n' roll the same way again.
Quick, name the first three things that come to mind when you think of thrash metal. If your answers include animal sacrifice, Norse gods, and necrophilia, that's understandable. It's not like anyone listens to Slayer for its anti-war tunes. Well, maybe the guys in Red State Riot do. Sure, the trio is influenced by the usual denizens of dark metal, but that's more of a musical preference than a lyrical one. When it comes to topical fodder, the only Satan that vocalist Pete Gross sings about is the one in the White House. You can chalk that up to Gross' punk influences, like the Dead Kennedys and the Subhumans. In "Bring Down the Borders," Gross sings, "Republicans want war/defense contractor whores/Crash down the White House doors." So forget about devil's horns and goat heads. Red State Riot is after the real evil.
While it's gratifying to see South Florida arts institutions snagging big names -- Joan Mir— and Louise Nevelson at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, James McNeill Whistler and Andrew Wyeth at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Robert Rauschenberg at the Miami Art Museum -- it's equally exciting when a museum resurrects an artist many people have never heard of and many others have long forgotten. The Boca Museum is especially good at supplementing its flashier exhibitions with smaller shows that often pack an even greater punch. That's what happened when the museum paired its big but slightly bland "Seeing People: Paintings from the National Academy Museum" with "The Many Faces of Balcomb Greene: Abstractionist Against the Tide," which cast welcome light on an American artist whose career spanned the 20th Century but whose work has been sadly overlooked since his heyday in the 1940s, '50s, and early '60s.
Poet T.S. Eliot was wrong when he declared, "April is the cruelest month." In the South Florida art world last year, March was by far the cruelest month, because it marked the final days of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, whose financial well ran dry after five years. And as far as PBICA was concerned, Eliot was equally wrong when he speculated that the world would end "not with a bang but a whimper." The museum went out with a big bang with its final exhibition, "I Feel Mysterious Today," a group show with an enigmatic title that summed up everything that was wonderful about the ill-fated contemporary art center.

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