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Photo by Jen cray

BoyToy

Peek inside new downtown venue Soundbar; Will’s Pub keeps pace with its own upgrades; Boytoy getting even tougher Calendar 

NEW VENUE PEEK: SOUNDBAR

The latest entrant into the hot music-venue derby that's dominating the scene conversation this year is Soundbar, which had its grand opening last weekend. The new downtown music spot is the phoenix that's risen from the ashes of longtime fixture Backbooth. Although the ownership group is new, there's some key carryover in Jared Tawasha, who was a Backbooth manager and is now handling those same managerial duties with an ownership stake.

In the relatively quick interim, the club has gotten a much-needed cleanup with fresh paint, lacquer and some new flooring. Some of the corners have been brightened up with new lighting. The most defining decor upgrades are the hand-painted murals throughout the club. A significant change in the main room is that the divider step-up along the back wall is gone, now giving the space a wide-open floor layout.

Many are probably wondering about the near-CBGB's restroom condition. Well, the fixtures don't look new but the paint and illustrations are, and the smell is no longer Third World. But one of the biggest changes is that the club is now nonsmoking, which brings it up to a modern standard and will be good news for more people than not.

In terms of programming, expect a mix of live and club events similar to Backbooth. The roster of weekly feature nights is all new except for Body//Talk's Late Night Swim Fridays, the sole holdover from before. Taco Bell Tuesdays, hosted by Shaw Smith, is a local comedy show. Not a Phase Wednesdays is a throwback, MySpace-era night by Tori Kravitz (look for Four Loko cans at the bar). Clout Saturdays, anchored by DJ Grape La Flame, are for underground hip-hop. And Sundays will be held down by dubstep crew Bassnight. Live shows will always be the priority so, like before, concerts will take place earlier with the weekly features starting after.

In sum, there's enough of the original bones here for Backbooth fans to appreciate the continuity, but enough fresh infusion to make it worth a check for those who jumped off that train long ago.

What it all means is that a good downtown stage isn't just preserved but refurbished and ready for new action.

BOYTOY AND NEW-LOOK WILL'S PUB, JAN. 31

On their latest Orlando stop, Boytoy – the Brooklyn band that's now multi-state, like many bands are becoming in this modern era – showed that they're sharpening their aesthetic like a knife. Their sound has always been a distilled thing. A little '90s alt-rock and a lot of '60s garage attitude, it's economical rock & roll that keeps a simple focus on fun and fuzz. But while they stayed cool and in the pocket like always, their live advance traded in the easy vibes and kept it tough. On stage, they're becoming total bosses.

But this time, the venue itself is worth its own discussion. Amid the historic high tide of fresh new music spots, the venerable Will's Pub isn't idly resting on its street cred, though it well could. Anticipating the oncoming surge of competition, Will's is visibly stepping up its game, and the sights are set on atmosphere.

Probably the most conspicuous upgrade so far is the huge video screen in the front game room. Besides opening a whole new visual potential there, it now simulcasts all performances and projects almost life-size, which will pay major dividends at sellout shows.

Less obvious, though just as experientially critical, is the more thoughtful light balance throughout the venue's various rooms. Pay attention next time, you'll see. The mood is much deeper and places the emphasis where it should be: the music room. All this means is that the energy is concentrated more optimally and everyone looks sexier. Win-win.

Look for even more vibe-enhancing measures to roll out soon, including post-show music programming that'll ensure the party doesn't stop after that last encore.

Even further evidence that this old dog has some fun new tricks is the unveiling of Uncontrollable Urge, a new Sunday dance night featuring classic alternative rock that will officially launch in March but is being sneak-peeked on Feb. 12. baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com

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