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This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist discusses Zs, Chuck Ragan's Revival Tour and Brink Thursdays

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Well, check you out, Orlando. Your man on the street here gets back in town and – thanks to vanguard music presenters Civic Minded 5, Tiny Waves and Accidental Music Festival – you get all interesting and shit.

Due to travel, I missed what surely must’ve been a spellbinding performance by Brooklyn avant-garde group Zs (March 17, Timucua White House). But because these artists seek to push their chosen instruments beyond their stylistic ghettos and into bold new possibilities, stacking the members’ individual projects onto their own bill the next night (March 18, Will’s Pub) made for a particularly special engagement.

Zs principal Sam Hillmer’s solo project Diamond Terrifier, for example, drove the sax into a primordial maelstrom of throbbing, unsettled bleats and diving tunnels of sound. Higgins, the solo project of guitarist Patrick Higgins, employed wowing finger work to weave a sound that rippled like a vast, swept cave lake. Guardian Alien – anchored by superhumanly tireless drummer Greg Fox – was the night’s only full-band set, and proved that even clatter can pulse with organic and exciting order.

This is the kind of thing that happens when classically trained musicians learn the rules and then push theory to the brink, beyond tradition and form. Still, that’s no guarantee of enjoyment. Proof of forward music done well is that, even if you can’t wrap your head around it, you can still feel it. And this bill was an awakening. Individually and collectively, they represent the kind of purposeful, boundary-pushing music that reminds you that frontiers still exist. And in the hands of bright docents like these, the frontier is a life-giving thing.

The Beat

I like Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour a lot. I love the curating and the collaborations presented by the permeable, non-stop lineups. Best of all, perhaps no other touring showcase better embodies modern folk authenticity. And, in terms of live experience, everyone involved subscribes to the spirit and blankets the entire room in palpable fellowship every time.

This edition’s roster was a bit different, trading in the typically gruff punk expats for effervescently feminine Jenny Owen Youngs and eternally vernal Get Up Kid Matt Pryor. Rocky Votolato was the only one with any notable twang chops, and even he’s on the more sensitive side. But it worked well enough. And though the lineup ceded a bit of heft, it compensated with freshness and proved the tour’s ability to evolve and grow.

However, Ragan’s full-band set delivered all the original grit, even deviating from the script for a great local nod by pulling the gravel-throated Bartender Brian onstage. When you have Chuck Ragan’s band playing your song and the man himself backing you up on harmonica, that’s a pretty big deal. As for Ragan, he continues to deepen the Florida music canon.

I recently got to check out newish spot the Brink (March 21), now unrecognizable from its previous form as the old Hoops Tavern. Though this is no longer the gritty intersection of pre-gentrification downtown drunks and young punks that was made even cooler by its head-scratching coexistence, I was drawn by another intriguing crossroads: roots hip-hop at a gay club. Specifically, it was the new themed weekly event under the stewardship of local scene mover Swamburger. Now, I had a buncha nice shit typed in my phone about this place and the refreshing concept, but then things went sideways.

This night’s motif was East Coast versus West Coast hip-hop (as if that answer was ever in doubt). While I was vibin’ to DJ BMF’s legit East Coast mix, the music took a neck-snapping turn into top ’40s dance at the very early time of 10:30 p.m. Turns out, his set was unceremoniously stubbed by club management, DJ Shadow-style, to cater to a small party that didn’t care for the night’s theme and ended up bouncing after only an hour anyway.

After a lot of confusion, frustration and concession, the original party was allowed to continue in the back room. But the potential was interrupted and, in effect, it was over before it began. We’ll see how this plays out, but undermining the promoter and disrespecting the people who paid to get into the event like that isn’t exactly setting up a fledgling night for success.


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