By Rebecca Bulnes
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"Some of these people," opines Johnson, "have been here since happy hour." Since the 'Bots rarely take the stage before 11:30 p.m., the crowd should be well primed for Baby Robots.
"We got the noise," Baker says optimistically. "We got melody. We have it all."
And when the four rather normal-looking men stop warming up and goofing around (Engle hadn't yet officially joined) and lead off with "Park Your Car," the song seems to spin itself into a cyclone from an ungainly mix of guitar twaddle, jazzy drumming, and that piloting bass. "Sometimes the chorus will just come to me while I'm cutting the grass," offers Johnson.
Bristol adds, "When things are going good, I'm just lost." And in fact the musicians seem to be channeling the music instead of playing it. Patrons stop talking -- it's hard to hear a goddamn thing, anyway -- and several move their asses and beer glasses to the front of the stage. The first song results in more than a smattering of applause and leaves a few mouths agape.
"I don't know if my music could ever be commercial," Baker says. "It's definitely weird." That's why Baby Robots' success in their own hometown seems so unlikely. Yet at the Surf Café and the nearby Boca Pub and Nite Gallery, the band is given free rein to be as loud and as uncommercial as possible. In fact Baker is allowed to hold any type of Ant Lunch-related ritual at either room when he feels like it (usually several times a month).
"We've made these places," bragged Baker a few months ago outside the Boca Pub, which opened in February. "It used to be a really bad dive bar before with toothless derelicts in there." But the venue's new owner happened to catch a Baby Robots show in Fort Lauderdale and was impressed enough to offer them a place to be themselves: "[The owners] basically let us do whatever we want. They trust us, knowing that some nights will be creatively crazy but that people will show up."
And show up they do, amazingly, in a vapid town in the middle of an already hipness-repressed zone. In his apartment Baker cranks out songs that flow from his mind to his hands to a cassette four-track, creating an endless catalog of handcrafted experimental music. "That's the best way to write songs," he says. "Just let 'em stream out of your head onto the tape, then go back and listen to them and say either, “Hey that's good!' or “We're not using that one.'"
And to Baker, Boca Raton is "kinda like paradise. I'm from Akron, and this is better than farms and the dreariness of Ohio. We've made our own little culture here because there's nothing else ... and if we don't make it no one's gonna make it for us."