Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
One of the best parts of the Palm Beach Dramaworks experience is the anticipation, like a kid on Christmas morning, of the moment you enter the theater to find out just what it's come up with next for its stage design. The stage is almost as big as the audience space, which means that whatever the troupe does, you're right on top of it. Last year, during an intermission for Lips Together, Teeth Apart, with its Fire Island beach house deck, one excited theatergoer walked right up to wander around and then read a prop copy of the New York Times sitting on a patio table. When scenic designer Michael Amico and his construction crew of Andre Lancaster, Michael Schmidt, and Manny Tepper built a full-scale Victorian parlor to pull off the creepy world of That Championship Season, you could only say "Wow!" as you became fully immersed in the play's 1970s world in which four lost-boy former basketball heroes reunited with the coach who would always manipulate them.
When you're a busy chef/restaurateur and a father of four, the swingin' nightlife is pretty much limited to sticking your nose in a saucepan. Extracurricular entertainment or museum browsing? That's pretty much limited to a few stolen hours with the kids on an off-day afternoon. Kevin McCarthy, proprietor of KM at the Grapevine in Plantation, stumbled into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame in Dania Beach one day with his kids -- all of them under 12 -- and discovered a serendipitously harmonious environment. "All of our relatives are big fishermen, and the kids related the place to going out to a pond with their uncles and cousins," says McCarthy, known for his dazzlingly original, Southwest-influenced entrées and desserts. The family has been back numerous times since. The place is a symphony of anglerphilia (love of fishing), with mounts of world-record sport fish floating overhead in eye-popping formation, touchscreen displays of the exploits of famed fishermen (like Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey), and fishing-related games and toys. There's the outdoor Wetlands Walk, meticulously constructed wilderness environments, and, the McCarthy kids' favorite, the Catch Gallery. Here's where "fishing simulators" give you a sense of what it's like to catch a marlin or a sailfish. "The kids flip out every time we go by the building now," McCarthy says.
We will not use this space to lament the loss of Awesome New Republic to the lure of the Big Apple and that distraction from music-making called "a normal life." (OK, just this space: Come back! Please, we need you! Like the Heat needs Shaq!) But there's no doubt about it: There hasn't been anything as original as ANR's jazzo-pop electrofunk soul-boogie that's come out of the South Florida music scene since, well, maybe ever. The band went through several iterations before rouletting into the two-man, drums-n-keys format found on its full-length debut, ANR So Far. And two is definitely better than one or five or seven or even 69 in this case. Find a song more hilarious and on-point than "Kill South Beach Dead" or effortlessly hummable than "Wheels, No Engine" -- made by anyone, let alone a pair of young UM virtuosi -- and, um, I guess you'll have another entry into this Best Of category. Our money says there's nobody out there anywhere that's doing smart, funny freak-pop better than these two. Yeah, it's sad to see them go, but at least we have ANR So Far to remember them by.
A seriously tough call had to be made in this category this year, as South Florida underground hip-hop took some major strides toward a consistent, quality sound. Neck and neck at the front of the pack were Lauderdale's verbal acrobat Butta Verses and Hollywood freestyle general Wrekonize. Both MCs are definite crowd-pleasers, confident and aggressive on stage yet flaunting a wicked and often self-deprecating sense of humor. Both have climbed their way through the local scene, gaining national attention but continuing to respect their subtropical roots. And both have taken that personal experience -- Butta's kinship with De La Soul and the Native Tongues clan; Wrek's dominance of MTV's 2004 freestyle battle -- and churned out track after track of streetwise insight into life just short of the big leagues. Stylistically, the two counter each other beautifully: Where Butta's unpredictable, hopscotchy flow is risky and often thrilling, Wrekonize stays perfectly on-point, smoothing out the beat like a warm iron over a silk shirt. So what gives Wrekonize the edge? It's his spectacular Waiting Room mixtape, a supertight showcase of every reason why this 22-year-old is major-label material. It's the best local hip-hop release of the year, and that makes Wrek our hip-hop artist of the year.
So the Galapagos of the music world (i.e., the bottom three counties of Florida, gentle readers) produces a band that combines ridiculously heavy guitar riffage by way of Maiden, AC/DC, and Black Flag with the number-one soul/metal drummer in the area and tops it off with gang-warfare-style live shows. Good God, yes! Tim Moffatt, Tyson Griffin, Chris Maggio, and Russ Saunders go on a few tours and, after a few years of nearly constant gigging and even more constant drinking, promptly implode, never having produced a proper release. Oh Lord, no. Welcome to the South Florida music scene, Charles Darwin. We eat our young.
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.