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It feels weird rooting for the sparkling-new, pre-fab festivities at Seminole Paradise out west while downtown Lauderdale's Revolution struggles to keep a viable local music night, but you can't fight the rising tide. After all, South Florida loves a strip mall, and the immaculate, brand-name entertainment complex out on State Road 441 might be the most glorious strip mall ever conceived.

Business savvy and generously funded, Seminole Paradise's marketing department has introduced a serious contender to the competitive field of Disneyesque enclaves vying for your disposable income.

"We have nine nightclubs, 11 restaurants, and 20-some retail shops," says Michael Enoch, the place's entertainment developer. "We do concerts to bring people onto the property and drive them into the shops and casino. All the shows we do are essentially marketing tools to market the property."

Like Riverwalk in Fort Lauderdale and CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Seminole Paradise -- which is on reservation land -- provides a comfy playground for young, fashionable adults, a place where retail and cocktail go hand in hand. But unlike its more established cousins, the Seminole Paradise also offers world-class, big-budget nightclubs and a casino right around the corner. "And," Enoch says, "the other interesting thing is that a lot of these clubs can be open till 7, 8 in the morning. When the last clubs in the [Broward] area close down, we can keep going because we're on the land of a sovereign nation. The main business will be from 2 a.m. till 7."

The Seminole Paradise's season got officially under way this past Wednesday with an underpublicized, free, outdoor concert featuring the always lovable Violent Femmes. On a stage erected in the narrow, flagstoned valley between two-story walls of yet-to-open boutiques, the aging alt-rock trio creaked and wobbled through an hour-and-a-half set of old-time anthems and anthems-to-be. While the setting was reminiscent of a two-dimensional MGM back lot, the band's enthusiasm seemed genuine.

Coy but ominous, the Femmes could be the house band in the Indie Rock Retirement Home -- and I mean that in the best possible way. With a brushed, three-piece drum kit, acoustic bass, and Gordon Gano's tremulous voice beckoning like an inside joke, they were clearly having a great time keeping the audience wrapped up in their jangly quirk. Considering the night's chilly drizzle, that was a good thing.

"This is cold for you guys, isn't it?" drummer Victor DeLorenzo asked. "We're from Wisconsin, so this is like a vacation."

Nasty weather aside, the staging, sound, and lighting were all topnotch. The Femmes milked every ounce of smirking angst from songs like "Please Do Not Go" and "Mirror, Mirror," and by the end of their set, 1,500 people were singing along to "Kiss Off," a fitting theme song to take into the adjacent casino's high-density gambling pen.

The Violent Femmes' ramshackle thrum worked despite the seeming incongruity of the band and the location. But the sleek, upscale superclubs that opened the following night fit perfectly with the well-lit, unblemished environs. The entertainment on hand Thursday was far more exemplary of the ambition and potential that Seminole Paradise brings to the region. Any time you can stumble from gator wrestling to professional boxing with a drink in hand, it's a unique night. A stream of contortionists, fire eaters, and costumed freaks flowed through the confetti-strewn corridors, their in-your-face eye candy and whitewashed Mardi Gras debauchery contributing to a Vegas-like vibe.

Both clubs, Pangaea and Gryphon, are beautifully, creatively decorated; aesthetically, Pangaea might win out with its big-budget afterparty at Lion Country Safari motif. Exotic ornamentation was the theme, from the topless nymphet getting a leopard airbrush job to the glossy house music blending into the crowd noise. The upcoming DJ lineup shows great potential (Marques Wyatt at Gryphon should be a soul-house orgy), but whether the well-heeled exhibitionist crowd out on Thursday night will comprise Seminole Paradise's typical clientele remains to be seen.

No matter what, as long as word of mouth continues to spread, the place will succeed. Indeed, South Florida loves a strip mall, and like a Las Vegas stepchild, this one out Strips them all.

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Jonathan Zwickel

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