This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist shows locals some love, including 90 Proof Pemberton and Orlandooom, and even tolerates '90s R&B

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Ain't nothing more critical to a scene than people who both give a shit about it and put work in to advance it. And this week, two local scene-builders deserve serious recognition.

First is local hip-hop mover Conshus (Our Show, WPRK 91.5 FM, Saturdays 5-7 p.m.), who organized the first public screening of Demos: An Independent Artist's Guide to Success (Feb. 23, Enzian Theater). The documentary – which features thoughtful perspectives from rap luminaries Talib Kweli, Black Thought, J-Live and many others – is crucial viewing for any hip-hop artist, primarily because much of it dispels the typical street yarn that the keys to the promised land are all in the hustle. What consistently emerges in the film's most credible voices is emphasis on the quality of the art. But the event itself – which was nicely grounded with a candid panel discussion afterward – was an intimate, enlightening and scene-forwarding engagement. More of this, please.

Second is concert producer Ryan Pemberton, who just exited the game. Instead of a swan dive, his last splash as 90 Proof Productions was a blistering cannonball of a lineup featuring Fuck the Facts, Maruta, Shitstorm, Rapturous Grief and Abuse (Feb. 19, Backbooth). It was especially sweet seeing him get up on the mic himself and rip out a song with Abuse at his own finale. Area heavy-music heads need not fear, though. Like 90PP did when Orlandooom went on hiatus last year, Orlandooom has already picked the booking scepter back up. But I know lifers when I see 'em. And now that he's staying local after all, we'll see how long 90PP stays dormant.

Maximum respect and appreciation to these two for keeping the city's culture deep.

The Beat

I've lived in the South all my life and spent most of it resisting Southern music because of all the dumb stereotypes that permeate the mainstream. But over the past decade or so, I've learned its real essence and have since had overflowing reason to embrace it. And the recent double-headed bill of Jon Snodgrass and Cory Branan (Feb. 19, Will's Pub) is that spirit embodied. Neither of them is strictly traditionalist. But in the contemporary country music landscape where "alternative" fare is infinitely more authentic to the heart of roots music than the popular stuff, this is where it's at.

Both musicians occupied the stage at once. While Memphis' Branan brings a bright, mature take on the folky singer-songwriter form, and both have tons of heart, Snodgrass (of excellent Colorado country-rockers Drag the River) has greater patina, texture and depth to his singing. Although separate artists, the two played as a duo, trading individual material and occasionally backing each other up. This joint performance is as clear a reflection as any of the closeness and intimacy of this edge of the country-folk scene. And in experiential terms, few other genres have as close a kinship with their fans, so there's nothing like the warmth and camaraderie at these shows.

Speaking of the South, Atlanta's Ponderosa returned (Feb. 21, Will's Pub). Their sudden Southern rock leap from literalism to reinvention on dream-stroked 2012 album Pool Party has positioned them for indie relevancy. But their live show is far more extraordinary in its massive, gazed-out heights. If they want to fully actualize their potential, they must double down on that tremendous energy and presence.

Of the openers, Lakeland's Mrenc were best. I haven't been totally sold on the projects of main brain Eric Collins since Denison Marrs, a leading area space-rock band from around the turn of the millennium. But this performance had the depth-mining slow burn he does so well.

While all that earnestness was happening, however, next door was something else entirely with I Don't See Nothin' Wrong, the Thursday '90s dance music night at Lil Indie's. Even nostalgia can't bring me to excuse a big part of the '90s as being almost exactly when R&B took the plunge from which it's only recently begun to recover. Luckily, the DJs have an expanded format that allowed for some tasteful jazz-rap and even a little freestyle while I was there. But even despite all the new jack swing in effect, the unchained perpetration of outrageous dance moves makes it the ideal night to be wiled out.


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