This Little Underground

Aw (cold) snap! Has Orlando been frozen lately or what? The weather, the Magic's offense and, worst of all, the concert calendars have all been on ice. Thankfully, the thaw is on.

The beat

The high-profile Central Florida teen crisis organization To Write Love on Her Arms regularly organizes concerts to raise awareness and money. As worthy as the cause is, the taste demonstrated in booking the talent for their shows has historically been questionable. I suppose you have to cater to the demographic, which past shows suggest is made up of kids swimming in sensitivity and angst. From where I sit, the schmaltzy types they usually showcase kinda make me wanna harm myself too. I'm going to hell for that one, but it's true.

Anyway, the kickoff show (Friday, Jan. 8, the Social) the night before TWLOHA's big annual Heavy and Light concert featured the first lineup that didn't make me shake my head, mainly because of Damion Suomi and Lauris Vidal. Suomi's rich folk performance handily stole the night. Lending unfortunate but undeniable poignancy to the occasion, Suomi's father died only the week before. Through the candor with which he talked about it onstage and the raw emotional fuel it gave his performance, he reinforced TWLOHA's sense of fellowship in a powerfully personal way. Pair that emotional ace with a rich, passionate full-band performance and there was no way anyone else on the bill even had a chance.

The headliner was a solo acoustic set by Ryan Kirkland, of breakout local band Between the Trees. Whether it's because I have fully developed testicles or for some other reason, his emo-pop sensibilities don't align with mine. However, though he mines an adolescent sentimentality that's artlessly straightforward, the kid has a clear sense of melody, even if it is tailor-made for the soundtrack of a TV teen soap.

Of Thursday's all-Texan bill (Jan. 7, the Social), opener Sarah Jaffe triumphed with folk music too robust and interesting to fit in the conventional singer-songwriter category. Her expressive lines are well-worn, but they're drawn with a distinctly modern touch, and her smoky, blues-tinged voice is radiant with atmosphere and feeling.

Yeah, sure, the '70s harmonics of headliners Midlake were good, but holy soft rock, Batman. The antithesis of economy, this band featured too many dudes (seven, to be exact) and waaay too many woodwinds. Their music is done lovingly and done well, but it's all kind of a yawn.

For my latest Bao Show (Saturday, Jan. 9, Will's Pub), I changed the format and asked some of the city's top bands to learn songs by the Jesus and Mary Chain. I simply decided that that's what I wanted to hear, without the faintest concern for how this whole production would turn out. In retrospect, allowing other people not only to touch the hallowed work of the seminal band but to have complete interpretive license was, as a friend put it, a sure recipe for disappointment. And choosing acts not even remotely close to JAMC in style didn't make things easier. But, against these odds, everyone was impressive and no one has to go to the chopping block.

Rising indie folk band Bananafish took the artiest approach by selecting only songs from the ground-breaking sonic violence of the 1985 JAMC album Psychocandy, reinterpreting them in a sharply atmospheric way and reorganizing their parts into an unorthodox medley.

In their own way, they probably confused this expectant audience like the Reid brothers did their own in the early days, through sheer subversion. Bandleader Travis Reed even got into the JAMC spirit enough to perform with his back to the crowd. And "Just Like Honey" was made for Bananafish's style.

Metal killers Junior Bruce absolutely destroyed, stabbing deep into JAMC's nasty grooves and making their misanthropic tendencies that much more evil through Scott Angelacos' bone-shaving voice. Their murderous rendition of "Reverence" blew everyone away and should be added to their own set list.

Despite composing the most obscure set list, Mumpsy played it the straightest and therefore brought the party, even working the feedback for the finale of "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll."

Since the bands and audience had so much fun with the tribute concept, I'm game for another one in the future, if a good idea presents itself. Suggestions?

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About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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