Girls' Club Collection
Robin Hill

For starters, there were no actual paintings in this daring little show at the equally daring little downtown Fort Lauderdale gallery known as Girls' Club. Instead, Frances Trombly's installation, which takes up the gallery's entire first-floor display space, is a suite of pieces designed to make us think about painting. Each of the linked works is a blank "canvas" made of hand-stitched fabric and either placed face-down on the floor or propped against a wall, back to us. Like a Zen koan, the title "Frances Trombly: Paintings" is meant to jar us onto another plane of awareness, where we start thinking about (and questioning) our ideas about what constitutes art and what does not.

It's lively, it happens every month, and you've probably never heard of it. When you're done explaining to your skeptical friends what FAT stands for (Flagler Arts and Technology — any questions?), stop by the intersection of NW Fifth Street and NW First Avenue and get ready to explore the Wild West of the Florida art world. Gawk at the scale of the Project Lofts, which houses big-name temporary exhibitions; release your inner child at the Puppet Network headquarters across the street. Get your yipster-bobo thrills at Collide Factory (at First and Sistrunk), where lively music and art meets a Google-cool office environment. Two black-box theaters within clapping distance premiere new shows. Even the neighborhood holdouts get in on the action: Paul Fioretti at South Florida Window Lift (First and Fifth) shows off the sculptures he welds from discarded machine parts. When you're done, head to Maguires for a heady pint and talk about what that looping video of a screaming naked man really meant.

Once a year, renowned artists crouch down on the asphalt alongside high school kids and amateurs, everyone covered in chalk and happily sunburned. The streets of downtown Lake Worth are filled with crowds guzzling funnel cake and beer, watching wide-eyed as the painters coax magic from the pavement. While admiring the brilliant artwork, you might also spot belly-dancing hippies, a musician playing a hand saw, kids in strollers, and anarchists sipping kava. Welcome to the glory that is Lake Worth.

Propaganda

After a considerable number of personnel shakeups behind the scenes during its two years in business, Lake Worth's Propaganda has managed to keep its footing and its finger on the pulse. The legendary South Florida emocore act Further Seems Forever chose the spot to host its first show in six years, and countless local acts have relied on the tried-and-true sound in the room to show off their best live traits on a stage that's visible from every vantage point. With a new emphasis on craft beers, the dark and smoky room can easily stake a claim to an environment just as refined for drinking as it is for listening.

Bamboo Room

The Bamboo Room closed in '08, and we lost a live-music venue that felt more like a neighborhood watering hole. Luckily, the once-beloved club returned in February, and again we have a music venue with no groupies blocking our view of the stage and no clouds of smoke choking the air. A high, peaked ceiling with wooden beams makes the place feel spacious and airy. There's a generous bar in the back, with Cheers-style chandeliers and a mounted deer head on the wall. Roughly 50 tables provide comfortable seats while allowing plenty of room to dance on the varnished pine floor. Outside, a narrow deck is lit with colored paper lanterns, and palm trees lean their leafy branches over the rails. On stage, pink and blue lights illuminate exposed brick. A painted city skyline evokes memories of Chicago or maybe Detroit. When the guitar begins to wail, remember how much we've been missing the blues.

Nothing much musical happens in December, so the off-kilter rock festival Zitfest was a fantastic diversion from the local winter blahs. Conceived and organized by members of Lake Worth experimental trio the Jameses, 17 local bands filled two long days with punk attitude, PBR, and camaraderie for a tidy $12 ticket. Lake Park's the Orange Door normally hosts blues acts, but the weekend glut of garage rock, postpunk, and experimental tunes from South Florida (and beyond) proved to be a zesty enterprise for area music fans on any budget. Are smiles good for the complexion?

Just like those jiggling blobs of fat hanging off countless lower backs, an initial grip is all it takes to seize onto Lake Worth's psychedelic punk act Love Handles. With Faith, Hope & Love Handles, vocalist/guitarist C.J. Jankow and drummer/keyboardist Jordan Pettingill focus their unpredictable live antics into an even-keel collection of two-minute slacker devotionals. Leading the album's stomp through South Florida enclosures with no air conditioning but great acoustics is the call and response of "Take It." All in all, it's a record raw and rousing enough to shake a few pounds off that sagging midsection.

In terms of decibels, sweat, and determination, Lavola's got South Florida by the balls. Led by Julian Cires' soaring, unparalleled vocals and similarly acrobatic guitar work, the trio provides a sonically complex experience on par with the Mars Volta and occasionally even Radiohead. Ably filled out with bassist Matt Hanser and drummer Brian Weinthal, this is a group that's always on the brink of complete thudding and screeching chaos, but it never loses the handle. Each one of its EPs — Black Sea of Trees, Live at Propaganda, and Leaving Paris — has proved to be better than the last.

Between the free wine, the lurid red lobby atmosphere, and the scandalous, nudity-filled programming, there was always something potentially dangerous about Fort Lauderdale's Sol Theatre; it was a venue whose shock potential was limitless. Before its 2010 closure, the playhouse serviced an edgy LGBT audience, and Empire Stage, which launched its first show in the former Sol space in January 2010, has maintained Sol's beloved ambiance while improving on some of its deficiencies. Since taking over the Flag­ler Drive hole-in-the-wall, artistic director and New York-based bartender and actor David Gordon has installed a better lighting system and finally fixed the leaky roof. You can still pour yourself some free wine, collapse into the comfortable couch seating, and see envelope-pushing fare you won't find anywhere else, including the gay-pornography comedy Making Porn, the campy favorite He's Coming Up the Stairs!, and the offbeat dramedy Sex and Violence. "We are interested in making people laugh," Gordon says about his theater's mission. "We're not looking to do heavy dramas; it's most fun as an actor to be onstage while people are laughing."

Having helmed one of the hippest dance floors in Palm Beach County, Flaunt Thursdays at Respectable Street, "Marvelous" Kendall Courtney has built up considerable favor among discerning indie electro fans. This turntable whiz can go lowbrow too, though; on Friday nights, he DJs to suburbanites in an open-format style at Margate sports bar O'Malley's. Marvelous Kendall knows no bounds, easily transitioning from a deep pulsating Chromeo remix into a funky take of the Outfield's arena-rock classic "Your Love" with ease — all without a touch of irony to boot. At one point this year, this mishmash mastermind was behind the decks at four different debauched parties — no small feat and many a hangover, we imagine. Although some of those nights have gone by the wayside and others — i.e., "Flaunt" — will probably remain until oblivion, Marvelous Kendall keeps on with his prodigious beat skills. The talented DJ has big plans for the summer, we hear.

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