This Little Underground

It's my job to cast a critical eye on our city's music scene, but sometimes our music community simply swells my heart. The benefit for Michelle Widmer (July 24, Will's Pub), who recently lost an arm in a freak accident in which she was struck by a car driving the wrong way on I-4, was one of those times. Immediately upon entry, I was met with a roomful of stuff donated for a raffle and silent auction and a dedicated beer station, the proceeds of which were being given entirely to Michelle and her mountainous medical bills. And between the incredible attendance and the amount of people who swung by just to donate, it's absolutely humbling to be in the midst of such largesse and active support.

But when I saw Michelle make her way to the front of the crowd in the music room to rock out to Hot Mouth's special dedication to her (a cover of a song by one of her favorite bands, the Afghan Whigs, and a set list signed by Greg Dulli himself), that's when the directness and humanity of the event hit me like a revelation. This was a celebration in the most real and meaningful sense. And I gotta say, if there's one thing the Orlando music community does well, it's looking after its own.

Even bigger than all of this: Michelle's spirit and indomitability in the face of adversity that would buckle the souls of most. Considering what she has had to endure at the hands of some reckless fucker, her circumstance may not look like a fairytale. But when you consider the fragility and randomness of life — two barrels of a shotgun that this woman stared down and defied — this is cause for the heartiest of celebrations. Cheers to you, Michelle.

The beat

The first of several good native discoveries this week was Cocoa's Velaceras (July 20, Back Booth), who have a serious jones for the Mars Volta and basically anything else Omar Rodríguez-López has done. Do not let the anemic recordings on their MySpace page fool you, these guys are much more vivid and electrifying live. They're relentlessly progressive and already handle highly technical and experimental freakouts with impressive command. The singing is a weak spot, but between the strong rhythm section and a pair of dynamo guitarists who navigate together like the Blue Angels, there's much to look forward to in this band. They may need a bit more polish to realize their potential, but they're revving up and coming after all you other hotshots around here.

Following them was Tallahassee's Curious Animals. They cover a lot of stylistic territory reasonably well, particularly '90s-style indie rock, but their core is somewhat elusive. Everything leading up to the last two songs meandered. Those closing songs, however, were exceptional. So there's a really good band in there somewhere, they just haven't defined their sound in a way that fully honors their considerable virtues yet.

Also riding high on classic American indie rock is local band Rabbit Rabbit (July 23, Will's Pub). A little bit Chapel Hill and a lot Midwest, their sound recalls a time when indie rock truly stuck to the ribs. Those who rightfully dig that sweet merge of soulful, open-hearted melody and high-octane rock power need to get on this band, pronto.

So the formerly Danish, now Californian band Nekromantix (July 21, the Social) came and it got me thinking how funny an idea psychobilly is. As if punk and rockabilly don't have enough individual appeal on their own. Hmm, what could possibly be missing here? Oh, right: goofier hair and perpetual Halloween! Now it's a party.

But it's not 2004 anymore, and I went to see if anyone was still into this stuff. Turns out, a healthy gathering of goth-billies crawled out from whatever headstone they've been slumbering under to rock out. And who can blame them? Times have been lean in recent years. That scene's a tiny trickle of what it used to be, however. It seems that the cartoonish horror schtick proved to have a fleeting shelf life. Who'da thunk?

Sure, Nekromantix delivered a storming set of rumbling, tumbling fun. Still, it seems pointless to me to exploit dark and seedy imagery in such a PG way. I suppose even big, burly dudes gotta have something to take their Bettys to. But it's long since run its course.

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