This Little Underground

Right about now, I bet everybody's praying they were wicked enough this year to get as much coal as possible just for some fuel. Yeah, I'd burn the shit outta that too.

The Beat

For his birthday party, Mumpsy member Chris Rae organized an interesting miniature festival (Dec. 16, The Social) featuring four "stages" to ensure minimal lag between sets. Both the garage-punk of The Shreds and the whimsical indie-pop of Architects of Fear worked. Tallahassee's Look Mexico has taken wide strides toward accessibility with a new, big indie-rock sound, which I'm not sure how I feel about yet.

As stated, it was Rae's birthday and he naturally got tore up for the occasion. But over the course of Mumpsy's set, he went from general incoherence to complete horizontality, snapping in and out of consciousness onstage (‘atta boy!). He soldiered on to the best of his impaired ability, even playing the finale on his ass propped up only by a creepy circus clown (DJ Sleazy McQueen) — a priceless, if surreal, image. Though he sustained a sprained ankle and some public indignity, the guy put on a lively, creatively structured event.

As part of a local hardcore bill (Dec. 18, Hoops Tavern), Khann played as a two-piece, which sounds pretty exciting on paper but was actually pretty loose and underwhelming given the circumstance. The metal-licked punk extremity of Time to Die, who were sadly playing their final performance, was much more cohesive and forceful.

But this kind of show — bands playing on the floor in an ad hoc venue amid the moshing throngs — is more about a purely physical experience than a proper auditory one. Though this was the first I've attended, I've known about the mostly hardcore shows happening at the unlikely location of Hoops for a while now. But unless you're deep in this particularly subterranean scene, learning about shows here is a notoriously difficult thing to do.

Though understandable, it's kind of unfortunate because there's something wonderfully strange about seeing an unfashionably old-school bar like this completely overrun by crust punks. And it's unbelievably cool how permissive the place is of unchained and destructive youth high jinks like moshing (triple bonus points to the guy who surfed the crowd on an actual body board). The congress of musky punks and wobbly regulars, seemingly bound only by their dirtbaggishness, was a curious mix that makes for a vibrant, viable experience that has the geographic convenience of downtown without its typical social baggage.

Experimental folkie Bill Callahan, the quirky crooner of Smog fame, arrived ushering in — I shit you not — probably the thickest patch of fog we've had all year (Dec. 14, The Social), rolling in during his set and lingering long enough to wreak havoc on traffic the next morning. Yeah, kinda supernatural.

Anyway, I never really understood Callahan's appeal. While many fetishize his quirky execution, it always just sounded off to me. Even though his laconic baritone exudes the sort of ease that comes from exerting little effort, there's rarely a completely comfortable moment in his music.

However, finally seeing him perform did trigger an epiphany, and that is that he is an artist who should only be experienced live. On record, not nearly enough of his glow translates. In person is where his naturally robust expression comes alive in three dimensions, particularly his room-filling voice. Accompanied only by a drummer skilled at nuance, Callahan's purposeful minimalism breathes in a way live that it simply can't on tape. His rich expression and defiance of conventional perfection is a combination that charms a devout few but thwarts most, myself included. Until now that is, at least regarding his live performance.

And, hey, it actually pays to applaud musicians you dig. Even though the house sound came on immediately after Callahan left the stage, clearly indicating no encore intentions, the persistent applause from the modest crowd impelled him and his drummer to come back out and play.

A recent bill (Dec. 13, Back Booth) reaffirmed a couple exciting Florida truths. First, local symphonic folk outfit Bananafish — named after a deliciously jarring J.D. Salinger short story ("A Perfect Day for Bananafish") that you really should read — looms large with real potential. Second, Surfer Blood should conquer the world when their unbelievably outstanding debut album (Astrocoast) drops on Jan. 19.

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