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Secret French Kissing Society Reunite at Propaganda, March 3

Secret French Kissing Society
With John Ralston, The Dewars, Bobby Yapkowitz and Chris Horgan
Propaganda, Lake Worth
Thursday March 3, 2010
Better than: West Palm Beach by way of Brooklyn

It was a night of reminiscing for Stavros Polentas Thursday night at Propaganda. The charismatically zany Brooklyn-based frontman reunited his defunct South Florida trio Secret French Kissing Society (SFKS) for one night and defibrillating the indie rock zingers heard on his group's brilliant sole record, 2005's First Blood, for an evening of nostalgia. Joined by bass player Jesse Steele and drummer Chuck "Duece" Britzmayr, Polentas brought his band's old Kinks-infected tunes -- which the trio hadn't played live since '09 -- back to life with a high level of unhinged kick pedal fuzz not present previously. Before going into a complete breakdown of the not so secret SFKS one-off reunion, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the magnificent, star-studded (by Palm Beach County standards,) opening lineup consisting of Chris Horgan, Bobby Yapkowitz, the Dewars and John Ralston.

Chris Horgan, aka Sweet Bronco, came on early at 8:30 pm and delivered a tender set which was described by another fellow New Times cohort as sounding like "the voice of a thousand angels singing down." Bobby Yapkowitz, lead vocalist for nascent Americana Lake Worth super group Heavy Boots, followed Horgan and shifted the mood in a western direction (as in country western.) It's a shame though, don't know if to point the finger at the soundman or at Yapkowitz himself, but Yapkowitz twangy vocals sounded so frail this evening that they were drowned out by the crowd's voluminous chitter-chatter.

Corrections must have been made in time for John Ralston's set, because we can't remember Ralston's voice sounding as crisp and pristine as it did this night. Keeping in line with the stripped-down aesthetic Ralston presented with his latest full-length album Shadows of the Summertime, he took to the stage simply with an acoustic guitar. Add in his unkempt trusses protruding out from underneath a worn beanie and Ralston looked every bit the part of a wayfaring musician. He unveiled an intimate performance that hushed the garrulous crowd almost immediately. "Bedroom Walls," Shadows of the Summertime's lead-off track, had the audience hanging at every delicate note Ralston emitted. He followed that one up with his holiday single "Jesus Christ," which he begun with steady, sixth string bass-like undertones that midway through exploded into higher frantic full-throttle strums. Ralston picked his guitar with such ferocity here, we can only imagine he must be dealing with some serious blisters this weekend.

For the most part though Ralston's set was an inflective down-home one -- a continuance of the shift in Ralston's sound from the somber, autumnal inflections of Elliott Smith to the earthy swagger of Tom Petty.

The rollicking, frolicking set of West Palm Beaches' Dewar brothers was an interesting segue from Ralston's gleaming one. The Dewars presented themselves with a skeleton crew this evening, gone were bassist Evan Mui and percussionist Steve Rullman (who coincidentally sat front and center nodding along to the boys' frisky tunes.) Zachary Dewar superbly picked up bassist duties without a hitch, plucking his strings with force as he sang along with his twin brother Anthony on the blistering chorus of opener "Welcome." Anthony lead the way on a new number called "Mend the Bitter End," whipping out chunky riffs that had the savory crunch of mid '60s Beatles records.

The Dewars did a good job reining in their sound, which at times teetered on spiraling out of control. Closest to the edge was the maniacal "Suburban Legend," its nervy rhythm and the Dewars' shout-it-out melody on the precipice of mind-bending chaos.

For the main event, Secret French Kissing Society begun its set with a deep grooving jam that took many colorful cues from Second Coming-era Stone Roses. It melded that tapestry into "Suicide Bomber," an upbeat track featuring Britzmayr impeccable snare drum bursts over Polentas gravelly verses, it was the most cohesive the three-piece sounded the entire night. Amazingly, the group sounded this tight with little or no practice -- getting together just the evening prior to rehearse for the first time in over two years. "Silent Film for the Blind" came next, Polentas dedicating this mid-tempo dirge to a certain New Times staffer who was chatting him up before the show. Polentas warbled his way through this one, which four bars in, he imbued with the scuzziest layers of foot-pedal jizz heard the entire night.

Polentas, with his fitted cap slightly titled to the side and hoodie, cut a figure most like a B boy or backpack hip-hopper versus an art-damaged indie rocker. Don't despair, his penchant for rap will be fully revealed later on. But first, the trio belted out another crowd pleaser in "My Girlfriend's Friend," an over-modulated track which had Polentas delivering the kind of marble-mouthed vocals that would have made Kurt Cobain proud. "I Gotta Move" came with the approval of the two dozen or so die-hard SFKS fans that remained, Polentas channeling his inner Pete Doherty on this ditty about the perils of living next to a smack dealer.

That seemed to be a wrap, but overwhelming encouragement from the crowd convinced the three-piece, who quickly nestled themselves with drinks in hand by the bar, to come back for a sincere impromptu encore. "Bruised Noodles" and its confectionary oh ah hooks was first. It's somber verses and tender melodies perhaps one of SFKS signatures, no wonder the audience insisted demanded it be played on this night. Following that the trio decided to have some fun and rolled through a slew of covers. Fugazi's "Waiting Room" was given a respectable karaoke-gone-punk treatment with Steele's bass playing particularly impressive in the backbeat. Steele continued shelling out the funk on the group's rendition of Sugarhill Gang's classic "Rapper's Delight." Matters unraveled some of its take of the Gravediggaz's horrorcore hit "1-800 Suicide." Nevertheless, Polentas admitted to the crowd that this was the most fun he had had in many moons. It was a bittersweet moment though, Polentas also adding that this would be the last time the trio would perform together. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: The Kinks and Nirvana blend will do.

Random Detail: Tim Hicks and his frenetic dance perhaps stole the show from the bands. Take note, he's the new dancing phenomena rising through the scene. A protégée of Dancing Rene (remember him folks?)

Overheard in the crowd: "John Ralston is sooooo cute."

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Alex Rendon

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