This Little Underground

Our local music critic takes on the 99 Percent Fest, True Widow, Emily Reo and more

Since I could only make the evening portion, I feared the 99 Percent Fest (Nov. 6, Senator Beth Johnson Park) – an all-day musical appendage of the Occupy Orlando happenings – might be sparse by then. But, walking up in the mist, I felt an event energy. Just beyond the Lighthouse Music bio-bus, the DIY lawn show was populated with activists, anarchists, scene kids, the curious and, of course, the occasional rando.

The SSLOTS-inspired finale, however, is what I came for. Watching the setup alone was enough to jack the pulse. This was a drum circle in geometry only. More precisely, it was a bunch of full rock drum kits,sundry percussion devices and more than 20 bangers arranged in a radial outshoot. Up close, it was cacophony. But from afar, it had an unconscious, organic intelligence and a strangely cohesive pulse, something that even the broader 99 percent movement can’t always boast. And while the cops circled, I watched for around 45 nonstop minutes, but it reportedly went on for more than an hour. Now that’s rallying that goes beyond rhetoric. Revolution, y’all.

The beat

The horror ... Eeeek! The humanity ... Shrieeek! Amateurs all up in my shit ... Gaaahhh! To scene regulars, Halloween is one harrowing night. But the real treats rained down after the costumed pageantry in one of the most agonizingly stacked nights in awhile (Nov. 2) during which I literally rounded three full bases before getting home. First was Texas trio True Widow (Firestone Live), whose accurately self-described “stonegaze” lives in a seductively forlorn torpor. But when the beast awakes, it’s nice and heavy. And instead of total gloom, there’s actually great heed paid to a lonely kind of loveliness.

Second base was M83 (the Beacham), whose debut Orlando show was zealously attended. In his latest double-album, Anthony Gonzalez’s project has taken a turn toward colossal accessibility and launched its reach into the stratosphere. And live, he and his band were electrifying. They took in the palpable buzz of the room and returned it in blinding streaks of synth, making the place feel like a neon cathedral full with a devout congregation. This performance shows that M83 is now certifiably primetime.

Hurrying back to see headliner Boris (Firestone Live), I wondered whether Jekyll or Hyde would show considering the growing dichotomy in their sound. However, though their pop edge made more sense live than on record, the Japanese experimentalists delivered a pretty rocking show that often occupied the pretty noise domain that Asobi Seksu seems to have abdicated.

Last to bat was Toronto Fat Cat Records band Odonis Odonis (Will’s Pub). It’s really too bad the night’s concert excess overshadowed these guys because they kicked ass. Besides being more than the sum of their parts, their wiry and thrilling swirl of garage, surf, post-punk and shoegaze was delivered with dimension and nerve. This is a band that knows how to balance wildness and command.

Judging by her latest show in which she opened for Austra and Grimes (Nov. 1, Back Booth), it seems experimental dream-pop weaver Emily Reo, Orlando’s export to NYC (you’re welcome), has abated the noise in her sound quite a bit. On the positive side, it allows her melodies to step out and affect more. Instead of white snow, she now spins her intrigue inside circling echoes to heady effect. However, I do wish her singing would finally transcend diffidence once and for all the way her music is beginning to. No one’s saying she has to succumb to convention, but she’ll be on the next level once her singing has more conviction of performance.

In demeanor and look (e.g., giggly hipster fairy), I was expecting some out-there weird-girl pop with Canada’s Grimes.And although her songs always start out strangely, she eventually locks in to a compact groove that’s prettily precise. With a left-field heart but immediate fundamentals, her catchy synth-pop concision has just enough mood and edge but is surprisingly translatable on a commercial level, in a good way. If Luna Lovegood was a slightly fried European pop starlet, this is what she might resemble.

Katie Stelmanis’ learned singing is central to the music of Toronto headliner Austra. Even so, despite a full band, their live show heavily emphasized their vocal aspect with the addition of two backup singers. The result, essentially, is classical vocal mastery channeled into sophisticated synth pop.

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