Rocks on the Rocks

It's big city bright future time for local rock

You wanna play your little games, I'll play your fucking little games. I heard all the rumors, the innuendo, the kvetches, gossip, and comments during Miami Rocks! (a two-night showcase of local bands at Club Nu on February 19 and 20), Miami Rocks Out (a pre-showcase smatter featuring several dozen live acts scattered amongst six local clubs), and the East Coast Music Forum (three days of panel discussions and seminars). I also heard all the bands at the Club Nu showcases.

At one point during a break in this marathon I found myself chewing beans in a bar with Rich Ulloa, the Y&T retail mogul and Mary Karlzen manager who, while speaking as a panelist at the "vertical integration" forum, actually did something useful, namely giving out phone numbers to the audience. "So Baker, I have an idea for a story you could do about who all these local scenesters would sign if they were in the talent scouts' shoes," Rich said. "As a matter of fact, who would you sign to a deal if you had the power?" Easy question. Um, well, let's see. If it was my bottom-line ass at risk, I'd say....

Off the top it wasn't as easy as I'd thought. Then I saw the showcases. A&R scouts: Whip out the checkbook, buckwheat, 'cause I just found your future.

The first and fattest contract goes to Natural Causes, who Caused me to have a stroke. Their music is so big, so evocative, entertaining, and advanced that I could barely talk afterwards, reduced to jabbering "I love these guys" over and over. There were some major problems, however, with the organically dramatic sextet's 35-minute set. First, Natural Causes should be playing no venue smaller than the Miami Arena. Second, they should never be restrained A as all bands had to be for Rocks purposes A to less stage time than an enthralled audience begs for. Third, the band should already be signed to a major-label contract; they should've been signed to one within 30 seconds of the conclusion of their monster performance at Nu.

Except for a few mix problems in the acoustically doubtful Club Nu, the music throughout went off without a hitch or glitch A someone was playing at all times and on time, with acoustic acts filling the gaps between full bands. Of the acoustic crew, Paul Roub and Zac delivered a surprisingly sedate mini-set, Carla Hall sang sweetly, the Bellefires suffered from the lack of amps and that big guitar/bass sound, Six Silver Spiders flew right over my head, and Will Quinlan, from St. Petersberg, earned a recording contract with his spirited ethnic thang. Or he would've if I were an A&R rep.

Then there was Question Reality. What a disaster. What a disaster it is that their manager wants this young outfit to work on making their songs more accessible. Their demo is accessible enough, but live they ascend to another level, even, or perhaps especially, in the acoustic format. Using some unusual instrumentation, they weaved a song called "Should I" around me and kept me bound up, startled, amazed, engrossed. Spinning poetry is right. Here's your label deal, kids.

Friday night's session began with Jacksonville's Barrelhouse, a talented bunch that opened with a crafty instrumental before the singer came out. Then the group lost its critical guitar from the mix and that hurt, except on "Head Trip," a song so jumpin' nothin' could stop it. Of course, they're from Jacksonville, so who cares?

But get the pen and paper and cigars back out for Cell 63. This act received a trashing from Miami Herald reviewers who aren't qualified to critique my dick. One of America's major newspapers has gone on the record as believing that the Cell consists of "Nirvana wanna-be's" A and people still wonder why music journalists have no credibility. Cell 63 paralyzed with a raw natural reawakening of sensibilities not experienced since the heydays of the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Hsker D, all of whom, it should be noted, were from Minneapolis, not Seattle. You could also compare them to Social Distortion, if you really wanted to be truthful and/or complimentary. I saw all those bands live back in the Eighties. If Cell 63 doesn't blow them away, they at least stand at their sides as equals.

I ran into Mary Karlzen before her set, and she seemed to be as ill as Rich Ulloa had told me she was earlier in the day. Must be that Sting virus going around. "But I gotta do it," she said trouperlike. Super singer Diane Ward was even sicker and had to cancel her Friday night opening acoustic slot. Forget the Name filled in, with Jose Tillan (who also was an East Coast Music Forum panelist and also backed Karlzen for her full-band set) laying out fat bass lines, Rafael Tarrago tossing out resonantly sweet guitar, and Rene Alvarez in typically brilliant vocal form, particularly on the tune "She Tried." Man have these guys come a long way since the Eruption days at St. Brendan's. Sign 'em up.

And Karlzen delivered, thanks in part to the extra-guitar and back-up vocal contributions of Mark Scandariato, as well as the Derek Murphy-Tillan rhythm section and the world's most tasteful and tastey lead guitarist, Jorge Barcala (of Nuclear Valdez). I still prefer Karlzen's rockers to her country tunes, but that's pure personal taste A everything she plays is at least as solid and involving as anything currently on a major label, and her voice actually grew stronger as the set progressed.

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