By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
In the upstairs cabaret of Tobacco Road, the song burned so hot that effigies of President Bush and his neoconspiracy cohorts spontaneously combusted, at least in our dreams. When that song ended, sound engineer Cosmo Vinyl gasped, "What a great band!" with the same tone he might have said, "The war in Iraq just ended!"
At another point in the two-set concert, the soundman used the P.A. to warn the wall-to-wall crowd that "There's no smoking up here. Uh, that doesn't apply to the band." Ward picked up on the joke: "Boy have things changed. This place is called Tobacco Road."
Yet there was a paradox much more significant than the tobacco-free policy. Wonderlight's concerns include the local as well as the global, and concertgoers received a major dose of the former in concrete terms. Miami's oldest bar, virtually unchanged in its blue-collar earthiness during the past quarter-century, now has valet parking (four dollars) on weekends.
For years gloomy forecasts of gentrification have haunted Roadsters and other fans of the grungy little neighborhood along the southern bank of the Miami River. The forecasts were accurate.
The pricey valet parking a measure not necessary even back when the Miami Heat played at the Miami Arena and Metromover riders would park at the Road during games prevents abuse by clientele of a nearby velvet-rope club and area restaurants; street parking, most of it a dollar per hour until midnight, is difficult to come by within five or six blocks of the Road by 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday. The empty lot directly across South Miami Avenue from the front door of the Road has been blueprinted for what would be the tallest building in South Florida.
Gentrification and the plagues besetting the rest of the planet are both confronted and set aside when Debbie Duke moves from upright to electric bass and turns butterflies into bumblebees, when Howard Goldberg shows that drums can work well as an instrument of finesse, when Shawde and Ward shift into an acoustic guitar swordfight with no survivors when the Diane Ward Band is burning down the house.
Ward's media-graphics business recently had to move a few addresses down Hollywood Boulevard because of complexities involving the lease (including a huge raise in rent), and on the stage she speaks of a passing notion of leaving her native South Florida and how that thought inspired the song "This Love Is Hard." There's a lyric in it that goes, "Someday my heart might reach out to greet you/But for now I'm fine just being here" an apt way to describe the gritty, urgent rock and roll Ward delivers in concert. Wonderlight might be a pleasure, but her live shows can be a spiritual experience. They are always delivered from the mountaintop.