This Little Underground

Black alternative culture is a quintessentially American but criminally overlooked experience, a condition that the Afro-punk scene is trying to change. And the first tour of the NYC-based Afro-Punk Festival (Nov. 5, the Social) was the most significant music event of the week, and possibly the year.

Brooklyn's Earl Greyhound unleashed their classic '70s steez like a sexy behemoth. The guitarist of loud Houston punk band American Fangs gave big ups by wearing a Magic jersey (too bad it was bitch-ass Penny Hardaway's). And even the flu couldn't stop headlining future-shocked tribalist Saul Williams from delivering sweat and spectacle. (That's the shit we respect, son!) Despite the niche that the name "Afro-Punk" implies, the event was actually an inclusive, liberating demolition of barriers (musical, cultural, racial). The timing couldn't be more right. As part of a select 20-city tour, Orlando is exceedingly lucky to have had this important event grace us. And I'm glad that, as the lively and packed-out house proved, we get it.

The beat

A pour on the floor for esteemed local girl band the Little Debbies. It sucks to be saying this in retrospect, but they had evolved into a pretty serious rock machine. Some sound issues notwithstanding, their final performance (Nov. 1, Will's Pub) was a testament to how far they had come as a band. They were arguably the most important girl band in the city during their tenure and undeniably the hardest rocking. But with all that talent going separate ways, I look forward to seeing what sprouts from the pieces. We've seen goodness proliferate a million times before with the breakup of quality bands in Orlando; there's no reason to believe it won't happen with these players.

Though they've gotten notably better technically, local paisley cult Strangers Family Band (Nov. 2, Will's Pub) has actually reverted, in terms of inspiration, away from the neo-psych groove they rode in on and back toward trad-psych. Yes, they've downed the Brian Jonestown Kool-Aid and are more retro. Now that they've deepened their chops, they'd do well to revisit some of the new-school stuff rather than be a strict throwback act.

Following them was Athens' Dark Meat. Besides sounding absolutely delicious, this well-stocked band deals in madcap Southern psychedelia that's way more of a blow-up than a trip. Live, I was gonna say that they were a deluge of ideas uninhibited by any notion of restraint. But all that was before Pennsylvania's An Albatross came onstage and made even the wildness of Dark Meat look like classic rock by comparison. An Albatross' vision of noise-rock is a high-concept explosion that blows in your face like a pipe bomb for several minutes straight, then starts all over again. It's a high-velocity oddity that's unchained, unrelenting and uniquely exhilarating.

Though almost the exact opposite, nuanced Providence band the Low Anthem had their audience rapt (Nov. 3, the Social). With only three members but a ton of wildly varied instruments between which they fluidly rotated, they crafted daring and soulful folk esoterica whose grip is tight despite its quietude. And singer Ben Knox Miller busted the most fucking awesome live trick by whistling into two cell phones that were "talking" to each other, creating an outstandingly spectral effect.

There is a megaton of genius behind the audiovisual phenomenon of virtual death metal band Dethklok (Nov. 7, Hard Rock Live). Between the animated antics on their Adult Swim series, Metalocalypse, and their recording and performance career, they are the complete package bound for the conquest of pop culture.

Everything about it's done with masterful art direction that simultaneously juggles self-parodying humor, wit, authenticity and virtuosity, all in huge and equal measure. Live, it's a combination of a blockbuster movie's opening night and a large-scale rock concert. Nobody can both slay and tickle as well as Dethklok.

And there is something strange and brilliantly modern about a cartoon band that can legitimately headline a haymaking bill of heavy metal's most relevant and powerful bands (Mastodon, High on Fire and Converge).

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