THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND 


You know that sexy dress I like? Well, slip it on, baby. Time to boogie again.

THE BEAT

All is quiet ... onnn New Year's Day. The night before, however, was an entirely different matter. Few are steadier fixtures in downtown than your boy here, but New Year's Eve is the one night that I cede the playground to the amateurs. As it turned out, most of the scene pros held mass at Will's Pub. All the action the occasion requires with possibly the city's lowest jerk-off ratio? Can't ask for more than that. And it was due in no small part to the mighty, all-local live bill.

Of the bands I caught, Slippery Slopes was strong, Mumpsy was wobbly and the Hex Tremors slayed. But the reunion of headliner Pilots vs. Aeroplanes was the draw and they rose to the occasion, delivering a performance that certified their place in the canon of Orlando indie rock. The most valuable part of their show was its function as a measuring stick, which, when held up to the current class of artists, affirmed that some serious evolution has occurred this decade in the city's music culture. It's always reassuring to know that you haven't totally been fucking around, ain't it?

Anyway, in with the new, right? So check it: Knock Down Drag Out is new (Jan. 2, the Social). They're a just-unveiled rockabilly band, hence my employment of the word "new" and not "fresh." Still, they pack more of a punch than most of their ilk. There's no way of escaping kitsch when it comes to the rockabilly culture, but at least these guys stay focused on tapping the depravity, insanity and just plain primal power of early rock & roll.

As a band they're huge-sounding, with some big-time flash on guitar and piano. Pianist Matt Burke chased the ghost of Jerry Lee Lewis lustily, pounding on the keys from all sorts of positions and even playing with his toes. Singer Michael Bales, known mostly for fronting standard-bearing rockabilly combo Rocket 88, was more electric than I've seen him in years, confidently wielding his signature blend of gymnastic voice, macho theatrics and leopard pants. There's a fine line between a stylish exercise and overbearing camp — something Rocket 88 has zigzagged over the years — but the brawn of Knock Down Drag Out's approach keeps them just on the right side of it.

Heavy blues-rock hitters the Ludes headlined and, yes, they still rule. That Jeff Nolan sure loves to wave his guitar around like a big dick. (If you had his chops, you would too.) The news flash is that they've added a theremin to the mix, which is weird and cool. But mostly weird.

My first glimpse of Austin Lucas was as a memorable guest on the Revival Tour. When a minor player stands out among the trinity of Chuck Ragan, Ben Nichol and Tim Barry, you know he's something special. So I seized both recent chances to see him on his own (Dec. 19, Will's Pub; Dec. 29, Redlight Redlight).

The indie circuit's peppered with lots of hip young bucks flirting with the twang. But if you generally dig that hybridized sound, as I do, the purity of this Midwesterner's voice will put you in a spell. It's one of the most pristine exemplars of country music's honeyed heartbreak in ages. Making it cut even deeper are echoes of bluegrass and gospel. Lucas' expression twists with a suffering and divinity seldom seen beyond the pew. He accomplishes this nice little trick by tapping the deep emotional well of country music without stooping to cheap bathos, a trap that claims not only the stylistic tourists but virtually the entire sitting Nashville establishment as well. The result is the powerful intersection of pain, beauty and authenticity. Kid's got the voice and his stars seem to be aligning, so there's no reason why his profile shouldn't rocket soon.

Opening was folk troubadour Lauris Vidal. One of the most active and credible ambassadors of the DeLand scene, he's a champion of the new old-timey, digging through the dusty trunk of folk music like an impassioned archivist and breathing life — even youth — into it. Though he was without his band, he was a one-man force who delivered a finale that had the entire crowd clapping along to his stomping.

baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com

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