Don’t even say there’s no culture in Orlando. Seriously, don’t. If I hear even a peep to that effect, it’s gonna be a backhand – POW! – to the kisser. Understood? Two particular concerts this week have my back on this one.

First, the sophomore chapter of the Baraka World Music Series, on March 21, brought the fleet-fingered virtuosity of Colombian pianist Claudia Calderón. Her technical, academic interpretation pursued Colombian and Venezuelan folk traditions with classical erudition. The atmosphere, however, was as much a part of the event as the refined playing of Calderón and her Piano Llanero Ensemble. This time, the concert was held in the offsite warehouse space for the Baraka Collection, which was transformed into an ad hoc but surprisingly elegant performance room. Despite the sometimes problematic garage acoustics, it was a moodily inviting mise-en-scène to be in. Though still in its infancy, the Baraka World Music Series is making a serious bid as one of the area’s most tasteful, well-curated music events. E-mail to get fully mailing-listed.

The second exemplar went down the night before. I, along with everyone who bought tickets to Boston’s Neptune online at, was told via e-mail that the designated pickup spot was Hoops Tavern at 9 p.m. There, we were scooped by the Bus, a for-real urban assault vehicle (it was formerly an Oakland mobile police unit) converted by Bay Area musician John Benson into a moving performance space. Once aboard, I kinda felt like Jonah, only in the belly of a huge hippie van (sweet!).

We hit the road and Neptune ripped forth in angular shards of noisy experimental rock bashed out on beautiful instruments artfully fashioned from junk by the band. They totally rocked but the pitching, comedically rough-and-tumble Bus was doing the rolling. Still, the band fared well, shining best during their impressively polyrhythmic exchanges. More than just a concert, it was truly a sui generis experience and organizers Alex Boeckl, Pat Greene and Greg Liebowitz deserve maximum propers for conceiving it. Even the band said it was the weirdest show they’d ever played, and they’re an experimental act.

It wasn’t until the encore, though, that things got bumped up from experience to adventure. As the last song climaxed, with audience members adding percussion by banging on the bus frame, we were pulled over by the po-po. Huge, windowless, obviously converted bus with the racket of a live rock band emanating from it … hmm, didn’t see that one coming. Thankfully, adventure stopped short of buzzkill and no one went to the clink. Stop missing out and get updated by e-mailing

These two events make a significant point. Y’see, all the discussion that the planned performing arts center kicked up might lead one to believe that this city is a cultural black hole. Well, I confidently differ. Thanks to the efforts of homegrown organizers with vision, at least our underground is already sophisticated enough to offer happenings that are as exceptional as they are unique. All it takes to ensure their survival is awareness and support, and I just handled the first part for you.

The beat

But wait, I’m not done with good stuff yet. On March 18, the Peacock Room was lit up by Ohio’s Times New Viking, whose sound is best summarized as jangle-pop buried beneath an avalanche of fuzz and feedback. Live, their melodic propensities were much more in the fore. Though still loud and scrappy, they were notably more accessible in person. Cheap and blown out, theirs is a total jalopy-rock aesthetic but the irrepressible melodies make it all glow.

Also dope was New Zealand’s Die! Die! Die! at Taste March 20. The lean and mean trio convincingly merged a tall, elegant post-punk sound with the aggression and intensity of hardcore. With lots of crowd-rushing and flopping on the floor, the boys hit it hard, hit it fast and got the hell out. That’s the stuff, man.

Wrapping up the week with an inspired showing was lauded Rhymesayers sharpshooter Brother Ali at the Social March 22. Life as an albino pretty much guarantees him an outsider’s point of view, and his head-on, intensely personal lyrics don’t bother to shy from it. Delivered in a commanding, unshakable flow and persistent cadence, his rhymes were pumped with powerful angst but ultimately uplifted and empowered. It’s no wonder at all that he’s on the vanguard of underground rap.


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