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.
Matt Carone has been a fixture on the South Florida art scene for so long that it's easy to take him for granted. The New Jersey native opened his famous, influential gallery on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale in 1959, and in the following decades, he built a roster that included such artists as Wolf Kahn, Leon Kroll, Wifredo Lam, and, of course, the great Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta. Meanwhile, Carone quietly continued his own work as a painter, urged on by Matta on his many visits to the area. And when the 41-year-old Hortt Memorial Competition was on the verge of going under a couple of years ago, Carone made his gallery available to the Broward Art Guild as one of the venues for the beleaguered exhibition. Last year, the artist sold his 10,000-square-foot space, which is now home to the Las Olas Art Center. But best of all, the 75-year-old Carone continues to paint, and if a recent one-man show at Lurie Fine Art Galleries in Boca Raton's Gallery Center is any indication, he's at the height of his creative powers.
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While it's doubtful that Broward and Palm Beach counties will ever seriously challenge Miami-Dade's art-gallery dominance, things are not nearly as dire as some skeptics claim. Yes, galleries come and go more often than they should. But there are also galleries that stay the course. One such veteran is New River Fine Art in the heart of the Las Olas business district in downtown Fort Lauderdale. New River has been around long enough to see the continuing transformation of the Las Olas neighborhood, but through it all, the gallery continues what it does best: providing a stimulating mix of old and new. New River embraces such contemporary talents as Luc Leestemaker, Karen Stene, and Pascal Chova, but it has also amassed an excellent track record when it comes to such big names as Picasso, Mir—, Chagall, and the Pissarro family. And last year, the gallery "rediscovered" Dali just before the art world as a whole began reassessing the still-controversial Spanish surrealist.
One of last year's most dramatic reaffirmations of the idea that less is more came in the form of "Reduced," a sort of nouveau minimalist exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. With just a dozen works by only four artists, the show tweaked classic minimalism and conceptual art to come up with its own cheeky version of post-minimalism. Francis Trombly played optical tricks by creating objects made of substances other than what they seemed; Frank Wick explored some subtle if extreme possibilities of mixed media; and Tom Scicluna made oblique jokes about the center's former life as a funeral home. This small package of an exhibition was neatly tied up by the 1971 video I Am Making Art, a deadpan classic in which John Baldessari handily reduces everything to a statement of aesthetics.

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