This Little Underground 

Bao Le-Huu takes on the Cult, Hundred Waters, Man Man and Against Me

click to enlarge CHRISTOPHER GARCIA
  • Christopher Garcia

For a couple reasons this week, it's good to be a Floridian music head.

The beat

By now, maybe you've heard that Against Me frontperson Tom Gabel came out as transgender last month in Rolling Stone. The Gainesville punk band's recent opening performance for the Cult (June 16, House of Blues) was the first Orlando appearance since the bombshell announcement, and the singer is now several weeks into hormone replacement therapy and life as Laura Jane Grace. Who knows where the gender reassignment process will ultimately lead her band-defining voice but, right now, she's still the same bright, aggressive beacon. And the band was as ringing as ever with a charged set of hot-blooded, humanist punk rock fueled by huge hearts and true belief.

What's changed so far is that Grace sported longer hair, eye makeup, dangly earrings and cooler boots. They're not exactly stereotypical punk but, at this point, they do make her seem more like a rock star, so that's cool. If anything, she's giving punk rock more color and personality. But fuck punk, even. This is way bigger than that, and it's a great sign that the public reaction to her has been a tsunami of positivity. I love this story because it's one of liberation. And in times when it feels like Rome is burning around us, damn if this isn't a promising harbinger for us as a people.

As for headliner the Cult, well, the last time I saw them was just depressing. No other way to put it. Ian Astbury was bloated, off his game and wearing an unfortunate hoodie that was, a) a purple of Prince-worthy intensity and, b) emblazoned with his own band's name. It was lame on top of sad.

But their new album Choice of Weapon is surprisingly solid, enough to stoke hope that they're back in fighting form. So I stuck around. When they finally walked out onstage, I noticed the frontman's still got a big ol' belly, but he's not wearing his own merch, so things are looking up already. Ultimately, the performance showed that his voice ain't exactly what it used to be, but it's passable live because even a fraction of Astbury's voice and swag is still more than most singers have. And the band sounded pretty solid. It's always nice to see a good veteran rock & roll band still in the game. The night's only major bummer was that the Icarus Line dropped off the bill last minute.

Speaking of Sunshine State excellence, this one just emerging, Gainesville band Hundred Waters is starting to perk radars thanks to some serious advance buzz. After seeing them live (June 14, the Social), let me tell you, believe the hype. Their avant-garde pop is at once organic and alien, and as evocative as their name. They're a highly musical but unconventional band with a particular sensibility that's both to the left and up in the clouds. And they have the rare artistic distinction of inhabiting a singular space that's largely their own. That's what's called originality, kids. Their ethereal, fine-spun sound is the child of lots of sonic detail and classically trained craft. And though their instrumentation borrows from each, their music isn't rock, electronic, world or classical. It's an exotic thing that is somehow celestial yet utterly elemental at the same time.

Garnering hot buzz is something. But it's especially impressive for a band like Hundred Waters that doesn't at all seem predicated on trend. It's a fact that makes the phenomenon all the better. Mark this group as another convincing case for Florida's music culture, one whose stars are lining up fast.

Speaking of original, you've got to hand it to the arty wildmen of Man Man (June 11, the Social). These guys have managed to craft an aesthetic and sound that's remarkably specific and unique. And when that thing also happens to be raging with hairy energy and fun, well, that's called a winner. Their kitchen-sink, neo-gypsy carnival rock rides a brink that either inspires instant devotion or tries the nerves if you're not on the frequency, but at least they don't half-step
anything. And when they're focused on unhinged intensity instead of being cute, they kick up a madcap party like none other.


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