Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The Caldwell Theatre may be South Florida's oldest theater company still in operation, but there was a time when it didn't have the esteem of the county's dramatic powerhouses, Mosaic and Dramaworks. In the mid- to late '00s, the theater's forte seemed to be conventional, familiar audience pleasers rather than provocative think pieces — a pair of Steel Magnolias for every Doubt. This is no longer the case, particularly since Clive Cholerton took over the reins as artistic director. After a bumpy first season beset with actor injuries and less-than-stellar selections, Cholerton turned the Caldwell into a regular hit factory in 2011 and 2012. It offered hip and thoughtful shows like the fact-based hoarding dramedy Stuff, the American postwar panorama Six Years, the political domestic drama After the Revolution, the satiric pro-wrestling comedy The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, and the of-the-moment and pro-labor musical Working. The fact that the Caldwell is heading toward bankruptcy protection from unpaid loans at the height of its artistic success is a tragic irony.
Finding a cool dance club nowadays isn't the easiest thing, especially in Fort Lauderdale. Often, as soon as one opens up is as quick as it closes down. Occupying the old Automatic Slim's venue in Riverfront is Fifteen West, a hipper alternative to the velvet-roped clubs filled with snooty clubgoers. There is bottle service and VIP, but the dress code is relaxed. The DJs don't spin bad techno remixes, and the door guy isn't a total ass. In addition to dancing and drinking, the club has also started to host a slew of indie art shows. From preppy folks to tattooed crowds, the patrons at 15 West are an eclectic bunch.
At Swarm, which pops up every few months, there are no special invitations, dress-code requirements, overpriced cover fees, or strict rules to abide by. As event organizers Black Locust Society says, "Come one, come all. It's just about bringing people together. This is just what we do." Housed in a warehouse away from the madness of the downtown bar scene, Swarm is the place where partygoers go to let loose, listen to an assortment of live music — the lineup is always different — and take in a bit of local art. The Swarm crowd is completely diverse. Nobody cares about your race, musical interests, financial situation, or what you're wearing. It's all about the experience, and that it certainly is.
The DIY, Lake Park, music-focused venue brilliantly named the Snooze Theatre started life as a blues club called the Orange Door. C.J. Jankow and Jordan Pettingill of Cop City Chill Pillars and Love Handles began throwing events there before it graduated from blues to experimental. They currently run the place with Ed and Dan McHugh, the latter of the band the Jameses, and a bunch of supportive friends from the West Palm Beach and Lake Worth areas. The Snooze opened up a seat for the ass of a scene that needed a place to sit and grow after the closing of Club Sandwich. Sure, down south Churchill's has been friendly to quality and experimental music of all sorts, but this area needed its own spot to squat. The biggest indicator of the direction in which the venue would go was Zitfest, which featured two days of Florida's finest garage acts like the Jameses, Guy Harvey, and Jacuzzi Boys. The venue showcases local musicians and touring acts, and it's even doing yoga there and mixtape exchanges. The ladies of the Snooze have gathered forces to host their own getty, aptly titled That Time of the Month. Though the Snooze was closed for a few months after being raided by the Palm Beach Police County Sheriff's Office in January, it reopened with a vengeance and tons of noise. The red-checkered floor remains the same. There's the pink glowing bathroom and cheap drinks. And now you can tell the Snooze how much you love it by writing on the walls with chalk. How sweet.
If there is one area where many jam bands are lacking, it certainly wouldn't be in the hair department. Most of them have plenty of that, though it's often of the shaggy, unkempt variety. Rather, many jam bands are missing a good singer. Local jam heroes the Heavy Pets are not lacking in either of those categories thanks to frontman Jeff Lloyd. Lloyd not only has the prettiest head of hair this side of Terrapin Station but he's got a voice that ought to be welcomed on whatever cloud Jerry Garcia currently resides on. It is soulful, well-exercised, and, like his mane, quite pretty. Nowhere does Lloyd's voice ring out more beautifully than on the Pets' 2011 release, Swim Out Past the Sun. The album is stripped-down and acoustic, which not only makes it a wonderful, mellow addition to their catalog but also allows Lloyd's vocals to stand out and dazzle.
You might recognize James "Scarecrow" Jenkins as the former bull fiddler of Lake Worth's punkabilly band Viva Le Vox, but you also might recognize him because he's got a lotta look. Nowadays, Jenkins heads his own outfit, Loxahatchee Sinners Union, a rootsy Americana act that came about by accident. In an attempt to set out on his own, he ended up bringing in too good a cast of backup musicians for a performance. Thus, the band was born. He calls the sound "swamp gospel." With him at the helm, singing with the charisma and enthusiasm of a preacher, it's hard not to hear what he means. As a singer, he knows exactly how to manage his vocals, creating an emotional plane, complementing the jangle of the banjo and the wail of the accordion with either excited exuberance or with the haunting howl and growl of a campfire storyteller.
From the magical, otherworldly sounds created by Astrea Corporation's Mike Astrea and Sandor Davidson arises the strange, mystical, and powerful vocals of Carly Astrea. Her look is majestic. She's always dressed to kill and crowned with great, big, loose curls. She's the siren to their song. Astrea's voice is often compared to that of Beth Gibbons of Portishead, the trip-hop goddess. Astrea says of first joining the act, which was already in place, that her partner Mike caught her randomly harmonizing with the sounds he made. "Whatever rolled into my head began rolling off my tongue," she says. "Shortly after this, I began laying down vocals for tracks and performing with the group, which ultimately led to me becoming a member of Astrea Corp." And we're glad she did.
Dooms de Pop is what you might call a new kind of rock band. Its music sounds familiar, but it's a whole 'nother animal creeping around, banging up the menagerie. It's like mainstream power pop and heavy rock with tasty touches of Flaming Lips and They Might Be Giants. Garo Gallo, who leads the act, is also founder of the Bubble, the Independent Working Artist Network concept facility located in Fort Lauderdale. "I'm just paying homage to the pop bands that I've loved my whole life and trying to re-create that feeling of comfort and nostalgia," he says. "But as soon as you get as comfortable as you're going to be, I like to take a left turn and take you somewhere you didn't expect and make that comfortable too." Gallo's band mates are musical veterans, and all take part in the creative process. There's Darryl Bonebrake on drums and Brady Newbill on bass. They have yet to release their LP Ticker, but no worries; it's definitely on the way.
If you wolfed down a handful of mushrooms and then sort of sat in the sun for too long without drinking water, what might appear before you in all of its glory is the two-man act Tumbleweave. These trippy mammajammas take our crazed, otherworldly hallucinations and actualize them onstage. Dressed in what is part Hershey kiss, part metallic Snork, Matt Cutler and Ben Mendelewicz bring performance and sound to the next level, the outer-space level. While costumes make them 100 percent fascinating and their unusual body movements 100 percent fabulous, the sounds from their synths, live drums, and even the ear-grinding feedback make their stage show some next-level shit that is best consumed live.
The term slacker has been hurled at tie-dye-wearing, Grateful Dead-loving folks for the past half century. No description, though, could be less true of Brotherly Love Productions, the most important force in the growing jam-band scene in South Florida. BLP organizes regular and sporadic events that bring together bands from South Florida and beyond with the dancing folks who love them. The comprehensive weekly e-newsletter that the group sends out is highly recommended for anyone looking to share in the groove.
The smell of the swamp, the slick of sawgrass, the chomp of the alligator. That's the kind of authentic South Florida shit you experience with Boise Bob and His Backyard Band. Their songs take a humorous approach to country music. He talks about eating 'possum and getting shitfaced at a bar he loves more than he loves you. The act isn't made up just of Boise Bob — his Backyard Band includes a host of musicians jamming on backwoods instruments you'll rarely see around these parts. There's an electric washboard, a washtub bass, a harp, a banjo, kick drum, slide guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and, whew, the occasional pig and bird sounds. Boise Bob is a longtime Broward County resident whose music represents this swampy cityscape like no other. And damn, can these guys deliver some motherfuckin', fun-timesy, country-twanged dance songs, perfectly suited for anyone who knows the feel of the hot Florida sun on their backs and of gators nipping at their ass.
With a name like Chrome Dick, you might think this guy'd be spitting rhymes about his genitals and how strong and shiny they are. But Chrome Dick is actually Raphael Alvarez, a musician who's been involved for years in popular Broward bands like .ihatejulie, Traded to Racine, Harvey and the Buckets, and now Suede Dudes. As Chrome Dick, though, pop leaves the room and noise enters. His EP Portal Between Heaven and Hell actually sounds like the space between the celestial and the satanic. There's nothing regular about Chrome Dick's sound. He creates haunting soundscapes and abrasive soundtracks simply with pedals, guitars, and a mic. Inspired by books on noise and experimental acts like Throbbing Gristle, in 2008, this musician became an experimental musician and a performance artist. Noise is more than just creating a cacophony of disruptive sounds; for Alvarez, it's about emotion, concept, and intellect.