By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
The walls offer a kaleidoscope of artistic endeavors by such folk talents as Jimmy Lee Sudath, Panorama Ray, the Glitter Girl, and nationally renowned folk artist Howard Finster. The rest of the complex is a whirling centrifuge of pop culture. Books like The Penguin Guide to Jazz, The Best of Abbie Hoffman, and Charles Bukowski's Septuagenarian Stew fringe a red leather and chrome dinette set. A larger-than-coffin-size phone booth stands sentinel in the alcove; the coin slot is disconnected, but the rest of the booth is fully operational. Across from the phone booth is the toy collection. A talking-action Darth Vader, a complete set of Pee-Wee's Playhouse figurines, and a Martin Luther King doll (with speeches on cassette!) are a few of the diversions that vie for shelf space. Wedged in a corner, a balloon-muscled Tick Man menaces visitors entering the living room, where stuffed Ren and Stimpy dolls have assumed permanent residence on the velour theater seats acquired from an out-of-business Miami Beach movie house.
Not surprisingly, the man who presides over the Entertainment Complex is known to denizens of the local music scene as Mr. Entertainment, a.k.a. Steve Toth. And his creative endeavors are as colorful and diverse as his decor. In addition to collecting instruments, art, and pop culture artifacts, the 33-year-old Toth is the kinetic frontman of the musical collective known as Faberge Dildo.
While Toth spends most days working as a 411 operator for the phone company, on any given night he can be found setting up for impromptu jam sessions with the various musical characters who populate the complex. Always close at hand is a jumble of instruments, including a vintage Sears Silvertone guitar, a banjo, a bass, a harmonium, a toy piano, and something Toth calls a Dr. Seussophone, an as-yet unidentifiable Indian horn. Here in the living room is where Faberge Dildo hones material for its semiregular gigs at Churchill's Hideaway.
As chief songwriter, Toth is reluctant to pigeonhole the quintet's musical style. "We play goofy music," he says. Many of Faberge's songs do have a freewheeling carnival feel that stems from Toth's long-time interest in the circus and circus freaks. The first ditty he ever penned, four years ago, was called "Circus Man Suits." Most of his current compositions are character sketches of some sort, often with an ironic twist.
Take "El Torero," for example. Its troubadour rhythms and staccato horns call to mind the Technicolor matador movies of the Fifties: crushed velvet, gold tassels, dark-eyed senoritas fluttering eyelashes from behind lacy fans. The only thing that seems out of place is that Toth is rooting for the bull. Although he scoffs at being labeled an activist for animals -- "I just don't eat them" -- he cops to writing the song, in part, to voice his disgust for the blood sport. "Why are [they] so proud of Joey Testosterone forking the bull?"
Then there's "Coca-Cola," Toth's take on soda addiction. "People are all sort of given these addictive traits and some people handle them differently. I think it's funny how we look down on people who are junkies when they're just in another position in life," Toth says. "If I was addicted to Coca-Cola and looked at a guy who was addicted to heroin, I would sympathize with him and not think he's a dirtbag."
Faberge Dildo's sound matches the eclecticism of Toth's compositions. On-stage the group weaves a sonic tapestry composed of Toth's carnival-barking vocals and rhythm guitar, Brandon Sandahl's arm-snapping drum work, the groaning haunt of Dave Johnson's baritone sax, cellist Janine Jones's stoic bows, and the twangy plucking of movie critic/lead guitarist Todd Anthony. The band's unique handle was coined by Johnson. He just threw it out one day and it, uh, stuck. "The name works," Toth says, "because the music is a little bit painful, but pleasant."
Faberge opened for the Moe Tucker Band in March and recently kicked off a showcase of local talent known as the Midsummer Ratfest. Both gigs were at Churchill's, which Toth describes as an ideal venue "because they let us play."
The lanky singer says he prefers to keep performances loose. He considers them hootenannies as much as anything else and remains unfazed by the occasional absence of a band member. "We're still tuning up," Toth says. "The last couple of times we've played we've been close. My friends come to see the shows and it's almost like everyone is part of the songs. We're all evolving around the music."
His low-key, fun-first approach has not gone unnoticed. Like most other local musicians, Rob Elba, vocalist for the Holy Terrors, lauds Toth's boundless energy. "He's an old huckster type, like a snake oil salesman," Elba says. "I like his songs and his attitude. Even if all the strings on his guitar were broken, he'd still get out there and play."