This Little Underground

Despite the asterisk of a couple of years off between versions 1.0 and 2.0, Will's Pub just celebrated its 14-year anniversary, which is remarkable for two reasons: First, that owner Will Walker is still working with his original liver; second, that the scene institution is a bona fide beacon of Orlando's cultural history, something we all seem to forget that we have. So support it. Happy birthday, Will's Pub, and I'll see your ass tonight.

The beat

Besides being a Scotsman with an Italian name, Paolo Nutini (Sept. 1, House of Blues) is also a Brit high on all things American. His music is a quilt of soul, jazz, country and rhythm & blues, and his affected mien is one of a young man swooning in reverence to his influences. His interpretation is definitely on the literal and precious side. Still, the guy's got mad respect for our heritage, and he and his band channeled it lovingly and with great skill.

Crushing all the warm-and-fuzzies the next night with heavy-ass punk-sludge were the legendary Melvins (Sept. 2, House of Blues). Absorbing the boys from the totally rad Big Business into their ranks a few years ago was a throttling mainline for the veteran band. It's clear that they're still motoring hard on the momentum from the dramatic revamp, because their set was maximum ass-kick. That thundering two-drummer setup they've been riding completely destroys. And does it get any more metal than Buzz Osborne's wizard muumuu? I can't imagine that it does.

The rock-based Southern metal of headliner Down was hard and competent but no big deal. The testosterone count in the room may've risen when they came on, but the IQ plummeted.

There's a plenitude of empirical justification that there's little reason to expect a solo performer to make the Earth move. But Red Mouth (Sept. 4, Will's Pub) is anything but your average troubadour. The erstwhile Eric Gebhardt's songs are the sound of the Deep South, spooked Delta incantations far more visceral than any modern blues. Starkly accompanied by just a foreboding slide guitar and a stomp platform, he delivers his troubled gospel in a voice that's haunted and soul-scraping. With a rare ability to command a room, he is unquestionably one of the most cutting solo performers out there.

Over Labor Day weekend, I landed up in Sanford for a night. One of the metro's surrounding pockets of charm, the town is geographically well-endowed with a grand shoreline setting and a historical fabric that's both intact and honored. But I discovered quickly that there's more to downtown Sanford than mere hand-holding enchantment. The good news is that there's some genuine eccentricity here.

Despite my affinity for the power and function of their design sense, I gotta admit that Germans are weird. But we're all down with weird here, right? So go taste the Teutonic glory of Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe (201 E. First St.). More than just a restaurant and bierhaus, this place is a cultural experience.

Piping the vibe with traditional German music was house duo Jimmy Horzen and Eckhard Wachsmuth in a show titled Schunkel Abend. Horzen's sprightly accordion did most of the heavy lifting, but charismatic singer-yodeler Wachsmuth busted out a series of showstoppers at the evening's peak that involved Alpine bells, a singing saw and, um, a turkey baster. And anyone who plays my personal anthem, the Benny Hill theme song, is tops in my book.

Four nights a week, this show packs 'em in and brings down the house in a hand-clapping singalong spectacle. So do it up right and enjoy it with Das Boot, a 3-liter beer orgy served in what could double as a gigantic flower vase.

Just up the block, more weirdness at Little Fish Huge Pond (309 E. First St.), an awesome joint oozing with bizarre WTF? cool. It's like hanging out in a freaky living room fitted with a bar and decked out in provocative art (penises, buttholes, the usual). This is a place with a big sense of both personality and humor. Despite all that, though, owner-operator Mo — a one-woman nova of spunk, quirk and generosity — gives the place most of its character. How many barkeeps do you know who'll not only pour you a beer but also "heal your aura"?

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