This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist takes on Marnie Stern, Tera Melos, Those Darlins, Thee Oh Sees and more

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Thanks, Shaila Dewan, for noting Orlando's organic culture and not that fabricated, touristy one out by Kissimmee. We all know it around here, but she happens to be a writer for The New York Times and she just wrote a piece on us - the real us - for the 36 Hours travel column. Her trek might've been a bit spicier had she stayed up later and just tailed me for a day and a half, but she at least spotlighted legit nightlife like Will's Pub, Uncle Lou's, Wally's, Red Fox Lounge and Stardust Video & Coffee. Slowly but surely, right?

The beat

It's a Gordian-rock frenzy (Feb. 27, Back Booth)! First was the punk-fueled experimental rock fireworks of New York's Marnie Stern, whose avant-garde guitar heroics are daring and dazzling. Maybe it's because she's unencumbered by male peacock syndrome, but she shreds for glory without coming off as a total wanker. And really, it's great to see a real destroyer like her in the sausage-dominated guitar arena.

Following her was Sacramento, Calif.'s Tera Melos, whose tricked-out experimental rock takes the kind of zigs that snap ankles. But despite their scrambling, crammed style, the music bursts with triumphant melody and explosive release.

These two acts absolutely represent the kind of tense, dense musical swarm that can suck oxygen from the lungs and frazzle the nerves. Still, it's impressive to see it done this well. As music that prizes complexity and adventure over fluidity, it ain't always pretty. But people bucking convention like this is how art advances.

Likely because of their punked-up country roots, outstanding Tennessee band Those Darlins made it onto the Old 97's bill (March 1, Plaza Theatre). But their beaming new direction is more about young garage snot and oldies pop grandeur. Most importantly, they're a real rock & roll band now, one of the brightest, most complete bands of their kind, in fact. And live, their sound is much bigger than you might think. Considering how great their new album is (Screws Get Loose, available March 29), it'd be a little weird and a lot unjust if their profile didn't get a significant pop this year. This unit's ready for the big time, especially lead guitarist Jessi Darlin, whose tough, possessed star quality is poised to conquer.

The WayBo Fest (March 5, Peacock Room) was a rally by area musicians to help fellow locals Bob on Blonde fund their upcoming pop-up book double-vinyl release. There, I was swept off my feet by the mighty Bestiarii. Instrumental post-rock is another genre that's sadly withered around here lately. Well, Bestiarii has magnificently picked up the torch with their epic, gorgeous dynamism. I guess we know who should open the next time Red Sparowes come to town. Or the amazing Caspian, whom they'll actually be supporting this Saturday at Will's Pub. As always, go see for yourself.

As for the band of honor, Bob on Blonde, it's invigorating to see them back to two-piece basics. I don't know what that nebulous, horribly misguided full-band phase a few years ago was all about, but this is where they're meant to be. Those chunky duo proportions are what their '90s-style indie rock wears best, especially the overdriven guitar. The result is raw, big and melodic.

Later, in a land far, far away - the UCF area - I checked out Switch Saturdays (Dungeon Lounge), the new night by local-artist agency Monster Nature. Importing DJs and live acts - Athens, Ga.-based indie-dance band Reptar this particular night - they're trying to do something cool in a UCF party scene that's almost institutionally unhip. (All you have to do is step through the connecting archway into Knight Library to see the culture challenge they face.) But the quality, attendance and enthusiasm I saw indicate that Monster Nature may just have a fighting chance. Much credit and luck to them.

Headlining the first of two consecutive shows by hot new promotions outfit Norse Korea Presents (March 2, Will's Pub) was Thee Oh Sees. Their swinging, intense nova of surf, garage, punk and psych-pop absolutely lit up the packed room. And with his primal rock & roll flair and hiccupping rockabilly theatricality, the electricity generated by frontman John Dwyer could power a goddamned city.

Shit, no room left to get into the second night featuring Puerto Rican ass-kickers Davila 666. So I'll just say this about Norse Korea's two-night stand: bi-winning!


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