This Little Underground

Our live music columnist checks out Ralphfest 2 and The Sword

Meteoric Vancouver band Japandroids blew through and lit it up last week (Nov. 27, The Social). Some things came up in my interview with drummer David Prowse about the band's experience that could impart some good lessons for this city's own aspiring musicians, of which there are many, but there wasn't room to mention all of it in my feature story that previewed their show.

First: You never know who will be at your show. Trust me on this one. Sure, their big break happened at the high-profile POP Montreal music festival. But, as Prowse said himself, it was at a scarcely attended showcase that many bands would've been perfunctory about. But Japandroids weren't, and it earned them some major fire-catching press and a record label. Similar things have happened to more than a few regional bands. You shouldn't be doing this anyway if you respect yourself and what you're doing at all, but take the night off, and you might be missing on untold opportunities that almost always seem far-fetched when recounted. If you're relying on the audience to give you the fire, then you've got it flipped. It starts with you. And the only way you'll have a tomorrow is if you play like there won't be.

Second: Should you be lucky enough to get a spark of recognition, that's when your work really begins, and you shift up, not coast on idle. Also, calibrate your expectations to reality, not pipe dreams. As Prowse says, "Even after the record came out, even after we got 'Best New Music' on Pitchfork, the first tour we played in North America was still to small, half-empty rooms."

Third: Even if you're in a seemingly isolated region – um, say, like your country's peninsular extremity – it can still happen for you. Japandroids' native Vancouver is a major city, but Prowse enlightened me on how geographically sequestered it actually is. It's within pissing distance to the hip, thriving Northwest scene but, with a post-9/11 U.S. border, it might as well be a million miles away. And within their own country, the far-flung metropolis is perhaps more remote than Florida is in the States. In the Internet age, excellence matters more than location.

The Beat

Jacksonville area trio Grandpa's Cough Medicine just made their Orlando debut (Nov. 29, Will's Pub). As you may have divined from their moniker, they're a traditional bluegrass band. Comprised of banjo, acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, this combo is both true blue and amazingly talented. Like any authentic bluegrass act, those instruments aren't just up there for looks or texture. In technically skilled hands like these, they're weapons of expression. And there's nothing like seeing masters at work, especially when they blaze the more storming end of the genre's spectrum as these guys do. Between the banjoist and guitarist, in particular, were some real acoustic fireworks. They're without the flash of rock amplification, but there's at least as much technical dazzle here as most rock or metal shredders. And every time they go on one of their breathless tears, all I wanna do is dust the sheriff in my General Lee. The blend of rigor and ease with which these boys play is simply jaw dropping.

Former hometown boy Eric Gebhardt returned with the most furnished iteration I've seen yet of his typically solo Red Mouth project (Nov. 30, Will's Pub). The addition of local drummer Dana Fasano and Gebhardt's regular guitarist back home in Alabama – as well as an organ – presented a robust roadhouse version of his music, stylizing it in a good-but-different rock way. Luckily, even the luxury of added brawn couldn't obscure the hunger and desperation at the harrowed core of Red Mouth's blues.

It doesn't take a hidebound hip-hop purist to recognize that, in terms of sheer skill and craft, rap music has retrograded dreadfully. They don't call the old school the "golden age" for nothing. That's why huge ups go to local MC AMiAM for repping Orlando hip-hop right by releasing a seriously legit debut LP (The Combine) and throwing a high-quality release party that also featured the Orlando debut of notable Massachusetts MC Reks (Dec. 1, Peacock Room). Apparently, some people do make it like they used to. And from the looks of this packed house, it's clear that the original, underground shit is alive and well in the Ozone.


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