This Little Underground 

I don't know what's inducing it — a persistent creative urge, dissatisfaction with the current direction of things, or something else — but there's been a local trend lately of marquee rock veterans rising back up and doing exactly what it is that made them gods in the Orlando music canon in the first place. And looking at all the huge talent in this little movement, this can only be a good thing for the scene.

I recently told you about the hex-trembling Saint Sibian and the Nutrajet-setting Hot Mouth. Now meet Magick Finger. Billed alongside Hot Mouth (Feb. 27, Peacock Room) and incidentally forming the most lecherous-sounding lineup ever, Magick Finger's roster is essentially Fantasie minus Jen Hathaway.

Psychedelia is something singer-guitarist Fred Mullins and bassist Johnny Wells have been indulging in quite a bit with the Future on Films in Space, but this new rock band is a much heavier drug. I've always been hip to the kaleidoscopic FOFIS, but sexy-ass rock is what Mullins and Wells have always done best. It's such a central part of their musical DNA, and I'm ineffably glad to see 'em back on it. And Magick Finger is liberally laced with virile licks, luscious tones and big grooves. They even reprised some Fantasie material for good measure. Yes, this band is something to get excited about.

Could this resurgence of first-rate Orlando scene veterans mean the return of sleazy, ballsy rock in our city?

The beat

Two blocks south earlier that same night was a pair of promising up-and-coming national acts (Will's Pub). First was Boston's Pretty and Nice, whose tightly wound new wave tendencies are a bit too directly derivative. Nevertheless, their songs are well-executed and their jagged, compact performance pulsed with total conviction. Live, their wiry workouts carry far more voltage and charisma.

Headlining was D.C.'s Title Tracks, the brand-new project by John Davis, the musician famous for his role in distinguished acts like Georgie James and Q and Not U. In person, the crisp, efficient velocity of this band's power pop is sheer incandescence. It's another nice step in Davis' quest of plying his effortless ability with snappy melodies into an impressive body of work. At this rate, he may well become the next Matthew Sweet.

Local musician RJ Harman (Feb. 23, Back Booth) is an undeniable wunderkind on harmonica. But his style can come off like young R&B-inspired singers performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events: technically dazzling but mostly annoying. Moreover, his band tends toward a whitewashed rendition of the blues that I just can't bring myself to give much of a shit about. The kid's got prime-time chops, but his musical interpretation is pedestrian.

Headliner Rachel Goodrich, from South Florida, has gained a significant boost in both her confidence and her execution since I saw her last. With all its canned cutesiness and goofy quirk, her old-timey pastiche definitely ain't my kind of folk, but it's got far more personality than Harman's vision. More important, it's fully realized. What was once potential is now in full bloom. She has finally become a real frontwoman with a real band.

Speaking of personality, it's a shame that recent Florida expats Look Mexico have forsaken a big chunk of theirs. What I feared was confirmed by their CD release party (Feb. 26, Back Booth): that their pursuit of greater tightness and sonic heft — both typically worthwhile virtues — has dragged them to the middle of the road. That's never the place you want to be if you're looking to do anything interesting. All those intricate, unorthodox twists and details originally associated with them are either suppressed beyond recognition or jettisoned completely. Unfortunately, those were precisely the things that made Look Mexico special. I hope that personality is just temporarily misplaced, not lost altogether. If they can fine-tune their sound so that their current level of confidence and their former originality are in better balance, they'll be back on track. As it currently stands, however, they're headed into gray mainstream waters.

Far superior and better defined were Tallahassee's Only Thieves, who kick out loud, driving, '90s-inspired indie rock with a timelessness that's uniquely American. Filled with huge, meaty hooks, this is the kind of rugged rock that's all about open hearts and open roads.


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