THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND 


;What a scene the Amway Arena was last weekend. With John Mayer on the marquee, it was a veritable hen parade, sprinkled with the occasional flipped collar. Having an enormous female following is something most guys would want to brag about (dude, I so relate), but if you're a serious musician and the most artistically demanding slice of that demographic is missing, all you're left with is an odd mingling of pimples and menopause.

;;But I didn't dive into this sea of electrified estrogen for the limp likes of Mayer, I braved it for opener Josh Rouse. On the surface, the two might be considered similar merchants of sweet singer/songwriter fare. But while Mayer hacks away toward being this generation's biggest bed-wetter, the unassuming Rouse is becoming one of its best pop songwriters. Rouse isn't a fashionable sort of musician; his artistic whims have had no relation to prevailing musical drifts whatsoever. The only things that have appreciably impacted his sound were changes in his personal landscape — most notably, his place of residence (Nebraska, Nashville, Spain).

;;Moreover, he's anything but edgy. The guy actually aspires to make "smooth sounds." And to be blunt, Rouse's music could be filed under "adult alternative" or "soft rock." It's enough to send most serious music-listeners running for the hills. But his ability to consistently strike melodic perfection makes him one of the finest tunesmiths to come along in a very long time. This nearly hour-long performance showcased that talent with a thoughtfully chosen set list that hit many of his catalog's highlights. The twangier moments were conspicuously absent, which is unfortunate since they're some of his best. But I hope it was enough to turn more people on to the splendor of his pop mastery.

;;Afterward, sitting among gabby women who would have looked more comfortable holding glasses of white zin, I flirted with the idea of staying to catch Mayer play but remembered how cold even a performance by his more "real" blues-rock project (John Mayer Trio) left me. Besides, there was some serious rocking to be done so I booked it to the other side of town — and the sociological spectrum — to House of Blues for the forward-thinking metal of Atlanta's Mastodon.

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;They unloaded a massive avalanche of sound, furious in its advance, intelligent in its movements and heavy as all hell. Prominent in the mix was Bränn Dailor's inspired drumming, which was as technical as it was pummeling. Free of all the genre's sillier indulgences, these guys are the new face of metal. All the ovations they've been receiving are well-deserved.

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;Scenester dilemma

;;As if being a hipster weren't hard enough — the fashion, the irony, the dance moves — two separate downtown venues hosted national indie acts on the same night last Thursday. Oh, what a pickle!

;;The Rapture at Firestone was an all-out dance party, which was refreshing to see in a big crowd packed with concert-floor density. Even though the dance-punkers up and went all disco on us with their latest album, it's infectious stuff and transfers to large rooms better. They've ventured away from surprise and toward accessibility, but they're showing that they can rock the dance better than most.

;;Down Orange Avenue at the Social, a much heavier affair went down with Canadian melodramatists The Dears. Frontman Murray Lightburn, often called "the black Morrissey," is the sort of fellow who takes himself very seriously. It's not a bad thing in itself, but he's the type of guy who's just begging to have a whoopee cushion slipped under him. The bombast threatened to smother an otherwise pretty set of lush and precise agony-rock.

;;Impossible to take seriously, however, was the performance there earlier in the week by Chicago sissy-rockers Kill Hannah. Things looked grim before they even played a note. Any time you hear a throng of girls screaming, it's never good news. What followed was a cheese-bomb of lasers, makeup and complicated hair. If you're gonna be bad, I suppose you might as well be stupendously, triumphantly bad. But this was one of those scenes that makes you feel that something has gone very wrong in rock music.

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;Our newest resident

;;Orlando loves the rugged country-rock of Memphis' Lucero, and hell if they don't love us back. At least frontman Ben Nichols does; he just signed a lease on "a duplex on Amelia." At a recent pickup gig, something we're sure to see more of now that he's semilocal, the solo setting reminded me why I love the sandpapery glory of his expression: It takes you to a place that's poignant and palpable. The guy's voice is so goddamned evocative that he could read the back of a shampoo bottle and make a roomful of good ol' boys weep. Now Orlando's just a little bit better.

baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com

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