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.

It recently inked a two-year deal with Ocean Front Records — a former subsidiary of influential soul label Motown Records — and now, the all-girl group the New stands to be one of South Florida's breakout stars. This half Broward/half Miami-Dade band's potential success owes a lot to lead vocalist and guitarist Lori Garrote. Many would say she is the principal reason the New might just be the newest thing on everybody's lips in 2011. Garrote has a delivery that is deliciously inviting, a subtle snarl that verifies, "Yeah, I'm punk rock gal" while somehow still conveying a confectionery-schoolgirl bubblegum-pop sensibility. Garrote is the perfect union of Bikini Kill and Michelle Branch — if ever such an inexplicable union of disparate worlds could exist. Over the group's chunky Breeders-esque riffs, Garrote's voice is an irresistible force. To add fuel to the fire, Garrote possesses an alluring pout that harks back to the Bangles' sexpot, Susanna Hoffs, and the composure of someone twice her age. She is, in essence, an A&R rep's dream.

Julian Cires, lead singer for cacophonous Northern Palm Beach three-piece Lavola, possesses the kind of vocals that command attention. He has dexterity in range, for one, taking his voice on adventurous turns that vacillate from ear-piercing howls one minute to soothing, velvety coos the next. Cires, a rather handsome Latin man, can also take his delivery in intriguing androgynous directions. He has Aimee Mann and Björk listed as influences on his band's profile page, and his more effeminate vocal skills are evident on the more tender dips in his trio's sonic roller coaster. Thom Yorke and his haunting and bewitching voice, however, is Cires' number-one inspiration.

After a few years of relative quiet from the Lake Worth singer/songwriter, it's a relief to hear that John Ralston can still fill a single tenor note with vulnerability and hope, glee and introspection, or wisdom and bitterness. His latest album, Shadows of the Summertime, proves to be one of the finest alt-country/roots collections the area has ever heard, and above all, it's his relaxed vocal style — a tad like Tom Petty, a smidge of Jeff Tweedy, but mostly just uniquely Ralston — that makes it definitive. His recent recordings with Invisible Music show an equal amount of polish, so he might not only be the best vocalist but the hardest-working one as well.

Is it possible to make music that sounds like the craziest party a coral reef has ever seen? Sumsun sure thinks so. With keyboards, samples, and a dash of guitar, Judson Rogers builds vivid soundscapes that are perfect for daydreaming, slow-dancing, and providing the background for creative endeavors. Samo Milagro is the official document of Rogers' musical endeavors, but a steady stream of remixes of other artists' songs — ANR, Sleigh Bells, and Guy Harvey among them — shows he's listening to as much music as he's creating.

With a pack of backup musicians or just as a pair, Wellington's Anthony and Zachary Dewar have never fallen into old habits as a live folk-rock act. Can a pair of twins barely into their 20s really have old habits yet? The charismatic brothers tear through originals like "The Noise Boys" and "Sunshine" with considerable aplomb and even throw in an occasional Leonard Cohen cover. Sardonic banter, outlandish thrift-store fashion, and sweet harmonies dot every appearance — no two are alike. They're entertaining enough that Surfer Blood even brought them out on the road.

Quirky West Palm Beach indie group the Clementines embodied everything we loved about postpunk rock. Tracks like the bubbly "Chandelier" and the shimmering "Everything Will Be Okay" had us salivating, yearning for the atmospheric glory of '80s British dream-pop bands like the Chameleons and Echo and the Bunnymen. These songs captured a melancholic and nostalgic feel that was far removed for the band's sunny, palm-tree-laden home of West Palm Beach. The quartet's bouncy, organ-led tracks exhibited a lot of dazzling indie-rock promise, we thought; we gave them many a kudo on our blog pages. Alas, we were saddened to hear the news that the four members decided to go their separate ways at the start of the year. There is a flicker of hope at the end of this tunnel, however; the group's lead vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist, Andrew Marr, is keeping the bittersweet-pop torch alive with another project he is calling Ski Lodge. He's traipsing similar terrain as his defunct four-piece and will be unveiling many unreleased Clementines songs with this new unit.

Boy, did the Broward County Commission need a bona fide Republican on the dais to offset the controlling — and incredibly corrupt — local Democratic Party. LaMarca, after defeating sitting Broward Mayor Ken Keechl, has played that role, questioning spending and pet projects. His defining moment came after Commissioner Ilene Lieberman missed numerous meetings (after apparently suffering a nervous breakdown while cooperating in a state corruption investigation against some of her former friends). While the public clamored for answers, the commission was silent — except for LaMarca. During one meeting, he had the guts to question what should be done about the AWOL commish. When he did so, Democrat Stacy Ritter, who for good reason is a target of the corruption investigation, gave LaMarca a stare as icy as a Chicago blizzard, and the other commissioners began tripping over themselves trying to defend Lieberman's inexcusable absences. Guess what happened the following week? Lieberman finally showed up at a meeting — and many credited LaMarca with giving her the push she needed to get back to work.

Enter any discussion about Hallandale Beach's city government and you'll find yourself surrounded by bickering. Taxes are going up and parks are going to ruin while the city manager makes a cool half-million a year. Mayor Joy Cooper is a polarizing figure, to put it nicely (she's one of the loudest boosters for red-light cameras), and Commissioner Keith London seems bent on making her life hell. Into all this enters Mike Butler, a soft-spoken, well-tanned resident who looks like he wandered off a yacht and into City Hall, where he relentlessly questions the city's business deals and posts damning information on his blog. "Mike Butler doesn't shoot from the hip; he shoots the facts," quips London, who often circulates Butler's posts at City Commission meetings. He doesn't look like your typical gadfly, and he doesn't shout like your typical Hallandalian. Which is, all in all, for the best.

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