This Little Underground: Legendary Shack Shakers return from hiatus to slay 

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Photo by James Dechert

During its initial announcement back in December, I wrote about the predominantly démodé slant of new Orlando music fest hopeful the Moonstone Music Festival (Apr. 30-May 1, Central Florida Fairgrounds). Now, the latest lineup additions actually include surprisingly current bands like Best Coast, Eternal Summers and the Coathangers. However, they come alongside the likes of Kansas, Buckcherry and, good lord, the infernal Evanescence. Well, at least Surfer Blood will have some people to hang out with. And it's nice to see locals like Kaleigh Baker, Mike Dunn, Room Full of Strangers and Beartoe added as well. But I now officially have no idea what is going on.

The Beat

Monotonix, Lightning Bolt, Bob Log IIIthese are legends of live experience. And the Legendary Shack Shakers (Feb. 5, Will's Pub) are in this elite company. With the gift of musical, conceptual and physical genius, it all has to do with bandleader J.D. Wilkes.

Between his music, writing, filmmaking and illustration, Wilkes is actually one of the most eminent artistic purveyors of the Southern mystique. He doesn't shy away from its dark old blood – he conjures it. Like the juiciest episodes of Justified, his portraits and caricatures aren't facile hick stereotypes. It's the vision of a wickedly smart good ol' boy who not only knows his heritage but also knows how to work it with diabolism.

With the Shack Shakers, Wilkes has crafted one of the truly great underground live bands in modern history. Straight from the Iggy Pop school of performance, his wild hillbilly-leprechaun stage presence is as punk as it is slapstick. And he attacks the live show with a crazed Pentecostal fire and a wink of the eye.

Due to a hiatus that saw Wilkes pursue his other also-notable artistic muses, it's been a handful of years since the Shack Shakers have been here after a long chain of regular stops. And, clearly, Orlando has felt the privation because a full house turned out to receive the return with real event buzz. See, boys? We miss you.

The always-maximum Wilkes showed no signs of rust, delivering the total concert porn that is a Shack Shakers show and propelling his band to scorch the stage like they've always done. To see them back in business and back in town? Pure, uproarious bliss.

Like the recent Torche bill, the showcase headlined by Savannah's Black Tusk (Feb. 3, Will's Pub) was notable for not just its bold headliner but an opening cast that also challenges metal orthodoxy. With Torche, it was cyber noisemaker Jeff Carey (who will be returning on April 1 to Will's Pub as part of the intriguing extreme Japanese music showcase the MultipleTap Tour). With Black Tusk, it was a lineup that, instead of serving up degrees of the same sound like too many metal shows, delivered diverse excellence.

Of the many good openers, North Carolina's Bask was the most adventurous and interesting. A thoughtful blend of post-metal and abstract Southern rock, their journeying, panoramic music – kin to bands like Across Tundras – is a rich tableau of atmosphere, melody and tonnage. It's irreverent of genre bounds and is the kind of thinking that expands the scope and reach of heavy music.

Though the punk and metal blend of Destructonomicon was probably the most in sonic step with Black Tusk, this Orlando opener had an unusual edge of its own. Although it does exist in both metal and punk, nerdism isn't necessarily the foremost thing that comes to mind when thinking about those genres – unless we're talking power metal, which is straight-up dork shit. But these local guys throw it all together with pride like a supercollider. Just look at that name: too many syllables (metal!), "destruct" (metal! punk! probably both!), "destructo" (nerdy twist!), "con" (maximum nerditry!).

Despite all their nerdy references, however, they deliver a not-at-all-goofy punch with their thrashy onslaught. If you hadn't seen their humorous social media and didn't zone in on some of their lyrics, you probably wouldn't even know about this streak. That's testament to their sonic power.

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