This Little Underground

Our live music columnist covers Jeff Mangum, Shabazz Palaces, and he issues a dare to some locals

We already told you about Orlando musicians Tierney Tough (the Pauses), Ranson Vorpahl (Saskatchewan) and Tre Hester (ex-Great Deceivers) being recruited for Matt Pond's touring band. We also told you to set your DVRs to Feb. 7 to see them appear on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. But here's my dare: A full night of boozery on me if anyone visibly represents Orlando on air (clothing, gang sign, whatev). Televised proof required.

The Beat

Man, I knew that Neutral Milk Hotel chief Jeff Mangum was an indie legend and all, and that he's been in deep tour hibernation for 14 years, but to sell out the Beacham (Jan. 26)? Wow. I'm not sure how much that speaks to the reach of his quirky genius and how much it says about the enduring devotion of pre-apathy '90s indie fans, but it's impressive either way. It was just a solo acoustic show but that only amplified the audience's spirit. With such loud full-room sing-alongs, you'd think this was a goddamned Indigo Girls show or something. The crowd chorus sometimes actually made up for the sparse instrumentation by humming the melodic parts that he wasn't playing himself. Now these are true fans, and seeing them was perhaps the most inspiring sight of the night.

Speaking of big shows, I thought about joining all those, whaddya call 'em, Beliebers to see that cute little lesbian with the boy's name Justin something or other – perform at the Amway Center (Jan. 25), but opted instead for the Sub Pop doubleheader (the Social). Even though the Helio Sequence's latest album Negotiations took the airy dream-pop direction they've adopted of late to its most banal extremity, they remain a flawlessly soaring live act.

Opening was Shabazz Palaces, the shadowy alt-rap project by former Digable Planets member Butterfly (né Ishmael Butler). While the Planets' jazzy peacenik steez was left of center, Shabazz Palaces is just way out in deep space. Butler, now going by Palaceer Lazaro, has always had the kind of affably liquid flow that could allow him to pass for Q-Tip's kid brother. But now it's taken on a sleek, dark aspect that's loaded with style and edge. And he and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire rendered their sound with more live playing than many electronic-based acts. Mysterious, nocturnal and impressively original, Shabazz Palaces are one of today's best future visions of rap.

For hip-hop that's more classic, I popped into Elixir for the new weekly residency for the Phat-N-Jazzy crew (Jan. 24). The DJ was decent but strangely wasn't PNJ anchor DJ BMF. Shit got even stranger when dude dropped into Crazy Town's "Butterfly," at which point I come this close to spitting up my beer and tearing the shit out of the pool table in a botched shot. Turns out, it wasn't the PNJ posse. BMF tells me that their new night there will now be on Tuesdays, the original PNJ night, but won't start until Feb. 19. So, memo to both self and readers.

Earlier and around the corner, New York band Freelance Whales (the Social) wove their twee indie-pop sensibility in an elaborate fabric. Luxuriously furnished live, they do their thing with skill, breadth and panache. But the depth was in the openers.

The futuristic pop of Brooklyn's Il Abanico featured supple vibes alongside an impressively restless rhythmic skeleton. But so far out on that same leftfield branch as to occupy an entirely different stratum altogether was Florida's own Hundred Waters, who completely owned the night and continue to dazzle. Despite its softness, there is a steely lack of artistic compromise in the way they approach music. It's clear that extraordinary thought and work go into the craftsmanship of their songs – and that their organic, sophisticated and almost elvish alien-pop is a new language – but seldom does it feel willful or forced. How music this unique and studious and unconventional has caught national indie fire is still a bit of a puzzle to me. But when it's something this good, even I know when to stop asking questions. So I just smirk with pride.

Also, due to a temporary technical issue, frontwoman Nicole Miglis filled in solo to demonstrate her classical piano training au naturel and in full bloom. And, yup, she's the real Mac all right.