This Little Underground 

Summer here is usually a time of desolation and surrender — this irrational heat just has a way of owning your ass like that. But this summer is shaping up to be a particularly enterprising season for area music organizers. Besides Austin's Coffee's perennial I-4 Fest (, this year will see some other newcomers.

I already mentioned the big 4th Fest ( last month, so stay tuned for more extensive preview coverage in the July 1 issue. But those looking for some more immediate and coastal action, there's the all-day Strawberry Moon Fest in St. Augustine this weekend (June 26, the BPC Warehouse, 1971 Dobbs Rd., St. Augustine). It's organized by Davis Hart — who plays in one of the most outstanding experimental bands in the state, Lighthouse Music — so it's sure to go beyond the ordinary. It's only $3 and music starts at 1 p.m. (For more info, go to

The beat

So the Fleshtones show (June 17, the Social) didn't exactly happen. I mean, singer Peter Zaremba showed up. Unfortunately, bad weather grounded the rest of the band in New York. But the resulting free show ended up being an intimate, and rather special, local affair.

Hot Mouth kicked off the party with typical swagger and the Empyres played a loving set of R&B-driven, '60s-rock rave-ups. But to salvage the night, the Empyres and Zaremba actually worked out some songs together prior to the opening of doors. For a practically impromptu situation, Zaremba brought it off with flair, workin' that shit like it was his own boys backing him up. Considering the last-minute lemons they were dealt, everyone — especially the Empyres — made wild, sweet lemonade. Although muted in recent years, the spirit and family vibe of the once-strong traditional garage revival scene came alive this night. And it was refreshing to see the side of the scene that harbors no illusions about being derivative and just lives it up in all its golden glory.

Even though Sage Francis can get a bit overdone, the firebrand Rhode Island MC is one of the most emotionally and stylistically meaningful rappers in the game. This time, his intensely confessional style was rendered with the full power of a six-piece band (June 18, Firestone Live). Still, connecting with his audience on a spiritual level wasn't enough so he went down into the crowd to mix it up face-to-face during the finale.

In the class of hardcore rap that's more personal than we've been conditioned to expect, Sage is still at the head. Besides, the guy's done a lot for Orlando music, lending his considerable wings to Solillaquists of Sound to claim their own rightful place on the national level. So respect to him for doing a solid for this city's music.

But amid the seriousness, the one thing that injected some random levity and nearly stole the show in the process was the drummer's nutty and/or drunk mom, who was brought onstage between songs. Instead of just waving to the crowd gracefully like everyone wishes their own mom would do in a similarly public situation, she seized the opportunity to get on the mic and scream "Happy Birthday" to Paul motherfucking McCartney, making the place erupt in laughter, band included.

An outstanding chance discovery was City of Ships (June 14, Will's Pub). The Pensacola-born but currently nomadic band plays an expansive brand of punk that blends the expressional breadth of heavy post-rock with the punch of post-hardcore. The result is a powerful swirl of intelligent signatures, progressive heaviness and expressive moods that comes at plaster-cracking volume and force.

Kicking off their latest headlining tour, Silversun Pickups (June 15, Hard Rock Live) returned with their sleek L.A. furtherance of prime-era Smashing Pumpkins. Live, they kicked with a large, muscular sound that's equal to the dramatic shifts in scale and horsepower in their songs. Even the flaccid material off their second album, Swoon, was given life while the strong songs from their impressive debut, Carnavas, were golden.

It's far more palatable to applaud the success of a band that's actually decent, and the pop-savvy, grandly constructed music of Silversun Pickups has proven both artistically sound and commercially profitable. In art, creating something that has both quality and mass appeal is often the most difficult thing to accomplish.

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June 16, 2021


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