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Song of South Florida

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"Two years, man," Tony says.

"No shit? Ah man, death is around the corner for me."

Caesar — looking, speaking, and gesturing like Harvey Keitel doing a 40-year-old Cuban rock star — is the senior citizen of Humbert. More than any of the guys, he's been around the South Florida music block, going back to the mid-'80s and Hammerhead, his hair metal band.

"We did the cock-rock thing all over Fort Lauderdale," he says. "I had a couple of pairs of spandex, some pink Chucks. I'd wear a little eyeliner... You know, standard issue." Caesar spent five years in L.A. with Hammerhead, gigging at the Whiskey a Go Go and the Roxy before packing it in and heading back to Florida. He's the only member of Humbert who's left his hometown.

"I've lived in Broward since I got back from L.A.," he says. "The people in Hialeah aren't so bad, but the system's bananas. It's like living in Cuba. But fuck it — I'm old. I'm old enough that next month, we'll do a 'Help Caesar with Colon Cancer' fundraiser."

"People would pay out the ass, bro," Ferny says.

Music erupts in the practice room, a languid salsa soundtrack to the well-oiled bullshit session going on inside the control booth. All of Humbert is here, relaxing, drinking beer, welcoming friends, goosing one another with a constant flow of barbs. From years of together time — on the road, before gigs, after gigs, partying, playing — Humbert has elevated rudimentary hanging out into a form of grand entertainment.

A watercolor sun is setting over Austin, and the city's resident bat population — about 1.5 million — pours into dusk from its home under the Congress Avenue Bridge. A few blocks over, on Sixth, hipsters swarm with similar density. Police have closed the street to vehicular traffic, transforming downtown into a relatively safe haven for debauching.

For all the hundreds of revelers on the street, thousands more are inside, and lines begin to form in front of venues lined door to door to door — the Parish, the Drink, Buffalo Billiards, Friends, Emo's, Exodus, Eternal. Most folks here are eager to catch the buzz band that will be the talk of SXSW, the one the bloggers blog about on their BlackBerries before the last note sounds. Others are eager to be that band.

There's a commotion in the street, and out of nowhere bounds Blowfly, the masked-and-caped filth flinger who's taken 30 years to rise out of Miami's R&B scene and into the indie underground. Followed by a film crew and sequined retinue, he struts down the street and vanishes into the crowd.

Humbert arrives with a different kind of fanfare. Seven strong now that Franco's here, the band is pushing what looks like a balloon-clad breakfast cart down the middle of Sixth. On the bottom shelf sits a whisper-quiet generator that powers a large PA speaker. The PA plays the song "Hugo" from Humbert's 2004 album, Plant the Trees Closer Together. On the top of the cart, a DVD projector plugged into the generator blasts the "Hugo" video, which Franco directed, onto any flat surface — parked cargo vans, building façades, pieces of cardboard.

"I dunno who can take credit, because Ferny and I both came up with the idea," Franco says.

"You're really responsible because you shot the video," Ferny counters.

"We've stopped like five times tonight," Leo says.

"And every time, it's been like this, people just fuckin' stoked," Dave says.

Between streetlights, where it's darkest, Franco stops the cart. Rimsky and Caesar stand ten feet in front and hold up two two-by-three pieces of foamcore — the movie screen. Franco fires up the DVD, and the summery sound of "Hugo" fills the crowded street as the video hits the screen. Sure enough, the perpetually flowing human torrent slows, and within seconds, a dozen people stand transfixed. The song ends, the crowd cheers, and Franco starts the video up again.

Last night, the operation was shut down by Austin police. City law allows projections but bans broadcasting in public at more than 75 decibels without a permit. The cops weren't rude, but they weren't friendly either. "You know you're not in Miami when a cop shows up on horseback," Leo laughs.

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Jonathan Zwickel

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