click to enlarge Book of Love

Photo by Jen Cray

Book of Love

Book of Love return after nearly three decades, plus the Baker-Barganier Duo, and more 


In the '80s, Book of Love rocked the bells for some of us even more than LL Cool J did. Although responsible for only a couple of truly noteworthy records, their first two albums – Book of Love and Lullaby – are immaculate classics of the synth-pop canon, done with singular style and loaded with anthems that owned the floor of every respectable alternative dance club. In an unending sea of Depeche Mode knockoffs – all of them fronted by deeply baritoned men singing in British accents (even when they weren't from the U.K.) – out stood Book of Love: clearly American, mostly female and as elegant as the best European exemplars.

As a kid, I practically wore the grooves off those two records but I never got to see them live. Now they return to Orlando for the first time in about 30 years as part of a very limited tour of only seven dates between both coasts. Synth-pop acts are not Bordeaux – no one expects them to get better with age – but here we are, three decades on. And for pure, sweet nostalgia, this one was a must. Apparently not just for me, because it was a straight-up sellout.

The performance featured only half the original band – just lead singer Susan Ottaviano and chief songwriter Ted Ottaviano – so a big production it was not. For his part, Ted delivered as much live playing as is practical for an electronic act, far more than most. And Susan's melodic deadpan is still serviceable. Still, the presentation was lean.

But this event was more about memory than performance. The turnout, the enthusiasm, the oversoul of the room – all were testament to the agency and eternity of some really good songs. And this wasn't just some general pop assembly, this was a crowd from a scene, one experienced enough to react when Susan mentioned legendary Orlando alternative nightclub Visage (yet another sign of the heritage that everyone thinks we don't have). I haven't seen this many geeked-out sing-alongs at a show in ages. Book of Love were the ideal of a shining moment in history, one clearly special enough to revisit en masse.


Since St. Pete progressive-music duo Baker-Barganier Duo first debuted here last July, much must have crystallized between them and their material; this performance rang with much more clarity and cohesion. Now on a proper tour for their new album (... and darkness was upon the face of the deep), the essence of the slave songs that inspired the work was notably more palpable, better underscoring the considerable distance that this duo carried their spirit.

Also featured on the bill was the intriguing Preston Beebe, a Montreal composer whose explorations merge percussion and technology. For his performance, he requested the house lights off. With just the trace light from his gear as the sole beacon, his methods and tools were made even more inscrutable. The only thing that the listeners were left to examine was the pure sensation.

Beebe's sounds weren't so much music as they were a sonic dimension, an interplay of drone, noise, percussion and space. Its central pulse began as a light metallic vibration, which was sustained until it became a humming engine. By the climax, through its relentless persistence, it came on like a buzz saw. When you experience that in a room of near-total darkness, it's not something you simply hear, it's something you feel.

The program concluded with a collaboration between Baker, Barganier and local experimental musician Steven Head, whom I just gave an Undie Award for "Best Guitars." Despite – or maybe especially befitting – that honor, Head's contribution here was both an extreme expansion and a furtherance of what "guitar performance" typically means. Musically, the frequency of this trio was much more in line with Head's solo White Sands project. Between Barganier's twinkling instrumental work, Head's tidal washes and Baker's interpretive dance, it was a dimensional audiovisual experience that made the room move like an underwater ballet.


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