This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist covers Hot Water Music, the Growlers and Purity Ring

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Florida's unquestionably one of the union's more noted states. Unfortunately, it's for a lot of forehead-slapping things. It's what makes us so colorful, right? Sure, why not? But we got some good shit, too. Swear.

Take anthem-core heroes Hot Water Music, for example. These guys aren't just local(ish) boys done good – they did it the right way with rock-solid ethos and big heart. Gainesville's their hometown, but the love affair with the band runs especially deep here in Orlando. They did, after all, choose us as the only Florida date on their official 2008 reunion tour.

Now, almost two decades since originally forming, the reconstituted band is in the full swing of their big comeback on the stout sails of an exceptional record (Exister), their first album of new material since 2004 and a standout release of 2012. For the second date of their first headlining national tour in eight years, they returned to Orlando (Jan. 17, the Beacham) and were pretty great on stage. With a seasoned sound but an energized mien, they reaffirmed their ability to tap into the timeless and proved that spirit is a fountain of youth. And clearly that was a two-way street with the audience, who reflected a jubilance that only a hometown crowd can radiate, even if it's an adopted one. As more than a few of our girlfriends predicted, it did turn into a boys' night out after all. And, hell if it wasn't a little legendary.

Now if you dig this exact kind of heart, soul and timelessness – all with a little extra twang – mark your calendars for March 22, when frontman Chuck Ragan will come through again with his consistently excellent Revival Tour (the Social).

The Beat

In other live haps, Miami's Lil Daggers, who impressed back in 2011 at the now-shuttered Substance, also returned. Though it seems to have ebbed a bit since, the garage-psych band was getting some hot buzz for a little while there. Since then, they seem to have gone deeper into the rabbit hole. Occasionally boiling over nicely but mostly simmering in a bleak haze, their latest performance (Jan. 16, Will's Pub) played like punk rock buried beneath lots of heavy drugs. But I still think there's a real animal lurking under all those sedatives.

Headlining was California band the Growlers. Their colorful, varied garage sound renders '60s rock & roll sun in a murky, psychedelic shade. It's a dig-able brew, and they're lively onstage. But, unfortunately, this performance was shambolic to just past the point of effectiveness.

However, the big surprise of the night was Vermont's the Vacant Lots. This duo also beckons listeners to an altered state, only they do it more penetratingly with hypnotic visuals and a psych-gaze sound that drones on a seductively dark frequency between Moon Duo and the Black Angels. Sounding less orthodox live than on some of their recordings, their vision of psych-rock has austere electronic beats and some of the best goddamned guitar noise I've heard in a long while.

Electronic shows can blow live. But Montreal's Purity Ring (Jan. 19, the Social), one of the hottest new fire-catchers in 4AD's stable, earn maximum showmanship credit for having openly acknowledged their physical limitations as an electronic act and then thoughtfully, triumphantly compensating with one of the most dramatic, dynamic and artistically appointed stage sets around. Designed by Vancouver sensory installation makers Tangible Interaction (who also designed Arcade Fire's stunning PixMob Zygotes at their 2011 Coachella performance), the mise-en-scène was a galaxy of suspended cocoon lanterns extending partway over the audience that was the vessel for an organic and interactive light show. Set that artistic genius to Purity Ring's forward-thinking soundtrack – a sweeping electro-pop epic with futuristic R&B construction – and you've got an hourlong full-body tingle.

But wait … even without the benefit of that full visual pomp, that night's openers, Brooklyn's Young Magic, were absolutely engrossing and, in many ways, much more alive and physical than Purity Ring. Even with electronic tracks, they pounded live with the extraordinary rhythmic pulse of two powerful percussionists in the fore. Even in ethereal drift, they're punctuated and purposeful. This isn't the cute, dreamy shit that's built only for the Internet. This is beautiful and deeply musical stuff. And it's electronic music done absolutely right live. Stunning.

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