This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist checks out Gasoline Heart and Torche

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If you truly respect guns like I do, it's time to finally fucking get real about the gun issue in America.

The Beat

A handful of years ago, local band Poverty Branch emerged strong and shined early (see: the incandescent 2007 album Putting the Old Horse Down), only to wind up dull with a misguided attempt at mainstreaming their already way-accessible pop sound into forgettability (see: 2009's All Systems Go!!!). Well, it seems they're back on their feet. The sheer enthusiasm of their recent, large-sounding reunion show (Dec. 15, Backbooth) thankfully eclipsed their middling tendencies. These guys have some undeniable songwriting ability, so let's hope their hiatus has imbued them with the wisdom and clarity to do it service.

Making things feel even more like 2008 was having formerly local band Gasoline Heart share the bill. Like Poverty Branch, only more so, they're also responsible for some pretty great songs. Unlike PB, however, Gasoline Heart has always been unapologetically clear about what they do: red-blooded, blue-denim American rock & roll. And their latest album Thanks for Everything, released earlier this year, is a return to the beefy, wide-strumming, chest-filling hooks that made their 2006 debut (You Know Who You Are) one of the best albums to come out of Orlando. Few make anthems like Gasoline Heart anymore, and it was nourishing to see their straight-shooting, big-gunning rock & roll on stage again.

Between them was Neon NiteClub, a band that plays '80s pop cheese so straight as to be a novelty. In lieu of invention, they did have a shirtless, smooth-moving Santa come out occasionally to toss glowing jelly bracelets and necklaces into the crowd. So, that's something.

It's always notable when Florida doom-pop breakout Torche plays here or anywhere; doubly so when the bill's packing the hulking drone dirigible of Holly Hunt. But this show (Dec. 16, the Social) was momentous for the debut of new Phil Longo project Hussy. Sure, his groundbreaking bass-and-drums band Basements of Florida just barely issued its final breath, but anyone around the scene can tell you that a rolling stone like Longo never sits still long enough to gather moss. And this latest rollout packs a star roster featuring experimental guitarist Kris Gruda and drummer Eric Pitman (Chemical Ache, Mr. Pussy).

Hussy's manic, groove-propelled avant-punk sound is both technical and freeform. Although open enough to allow individual character and experimentation, it maintains a clear, persistent rhythmic core, so that when they all align, lock in and rise, it's a raw and formidable roar. Once again, Longo comes to the field with something not only good but also something no one else here is doing.

But of this week's shows, perhaps the most immersive was a super-intimate engagement organized by Pauses frontwoman Tierney Tough at newly unveiled Will's Pub sister spot, Lil Indies (Dec. 8). While not typically intended for shows, it does occasionally host small, stripped performances. And that's what this was, only with a pretty big name: Matt Pond.

The national news on Pond is that he has freshly dropped the long-outdated geographical signifier "PA" from his nom de plume. But the big regional deal is that dude's currently a Floridian (!!!) and that he's assembled a mostly Orlando crew for his upcoming tour band (including the aforementioned Tough, Saskatchewan's Ranson Vorpahl and ex-Great Deceiver Tre Hester). They'll be touring with the somewhat insufferable Jukebox the Ghost, but whatever – a high-quality national artist backed by locals will get some deserved exposure. You can peep this lineup Feb. 20 at the Social.

Although straightforward, Pond's tunefully tasteful indie rock is done exceptionally well. A true pop craftsman, his way with melody is a thing of splendor. That's why, even acoustic, he's able to coax all the tender essence that makes his songs so affecting. With controlled capacity and unmatched proximity, this is the sort of event tailor-made for true fans and listeners. And for those who had their shit together enough to get advance tickets, it was a pretty special experience.

2012 Undies

All right, ready the smelling salts, Sally. As you read this, I'm uploading the piles of scene notes I gathered over the past year into the TLU mainframe. By next week, it'll synthesize these volumes into the 2012 annual Undie Awards.

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