Note to OPD: Downtown's not going to remain welcoming and walkable if officers don't do more active patrolling — just a friendly reminder.
Last summer's big roster shake-up of local powerhouse the Legendary JC's kicked up more than a little tongue-wagging on the scene; controversy always sprouts any time founding members depart. The original lineup was venerated for good reason, but the reality is that it had become stagnant. The band was stacked with many of the city's most talented players, but their vision had taken a back seat to excess.
Despite the major overhaul, what I saw at their recent performance (May 9, Plaza Theatre) was a crystallized concept. This new band presented a rhythm & blues sound cut with greater purity and focus. The jam and fusion tendencies of yore? Gone, and I don't miss 'em one bit. Rather than the previous cast of well-known all-stars, the JC's at this point look more like a well-organized galaxy with a single sun. When that sun is the dazzling Eugene Snowden, that's not a bad thing. It's a situation that allows Orlando's only true soul gun, one of the greatest showmen this region has produced, to fully shine. And there's definitely something to be said for the order and clarity of that kind of arrangement. I've been saying for a while now that I wanna see the guy do a pure soul project. This sure looks like one and, mmm-hmmm, does it sound sweet.
Hats off to the night's co-headliner, Matt Butcher, for bringing top-shelf Tampa band Will Quinlan and the Diviners back to town to open things. Despite the strength of Orlando's alt-country scene, you may not know who they are. The first and last time I saw them play was years ago, at the short-lived Will's South. (Anybody who remembers that interesting little experiment will know how long ago that was.) Their in-town presence since then has been next to nil, and that's something that needs to be remedied for our own cultural sake. Our hometown Americana bands could use the example.
Jersey boys the Gaslight Anthem delivered a heroic set (May 3, the Social) that rang with nostalgia and context. Emphasizing soaring, blue-collar singalongs over flashy dynamics or tough-guy posturing, their roots punk rides on an inexhaustible supply of melodic triumph. It's what Hot Water Music would sound like if they traded their hardcore tendencies for straight rock. Punks got love too, y'know.
Easily matching the Gaslight Anthem in terms of heart was the wide, sweeping Rust Belt rock of the Heartless Bastards. Drawing most of their force from supernova frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom — whose stentorian voice could register on the Richter scale — they're driven by dynamics similar to those of the Duke Spirit, only with less fashion and more soul. Though they do the great garage rock heritage of the Midwest proud, they take a far more emotionally resonant path. Their rich sound is given greater dimension and depth with currents of the blues, soul and now more rootsy twang. The result was a stirring and deeply human performance.
Also representing the ladies well was Angela Mullenhour of boss Chicago band Sybris (May 4, Redlight Redlight). Like a head-on collision between Karen O and Björk, her singing packs as much power as it does expression. Mullenhour has one of the most commanding female voices in indie rock today. Even though nobody seems to realize it yet, Sybris is one of the best bands goin' right now; their tunefully explosive sound has it all: melody, emotionality, dynamics and horsepower. What else is there? Why these guys haven't taken over the world yet is a total mystery.
Earlier that night was Brooklyn's Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band (the Social). When you imagine a dude who's stepped beyond his emo pedigree to explore singer-songwriter territory, good things don't come to mind. But Devine and his band maneuvered these dubious waters successfully, his sharp songwriting ability guiding the way. The result was a solid set of folk-flecked, melody-based indie rock that charmed without taking itself too seriously.
There are three (!!!) music festivals poppin' off right now in town, making this the biggest week of the year so far. Each has a distinct taste range and all are in and around downtown. So why are you still sitting there reading? Get up, get out, get down![email protected]