Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
There's an easy way to weed out the musical heavyweights from the merely mediocre. Regular songwriters craft works about love, loss, and universal experiences. Boring. True visionaries turn their attention to more pressing matters: their own trials in the spotlight. Witness the navel-gazing tunes of Van Morrison ("The Story of Them"), the Beatles ("The Ballad of John and Yoko"), and, of course, that pop titan Ricky Nelson ("Garden Party"). To those illustrious ranks add the Trash Monkeys, who have not just one song dealing with the ongoing tribulations of, well, Trash Monkey-dom, but a half-dozen. Of course the band's concerns are a little more downmarket than hordes of groupies, intrusive TV cameras, and piles of cash. As singer Lloyd Johnson croons over a stumbling acoustic lurch, if you enter the "Casa de Trash," be sure to mind the exposed wiring and don't forget to carefully hide your stash. Oh yeah, try not to step on the blow-up doll either. "Casa de Trash" is just one of the many country-inflected odes the group recorded back in the late Eighties, only now rescued from samizdat cassette editions and enshrined on the Pass Out CD. Elsewhere there's the cowpunk dirge "Puppies, Puppies, Puppies" (delivered in a milk-curdling faux-Scottish accent, of course), the fuzzed-out jauntiness of "Clairvoyant Housewife" (the bouncily twee theme song to one of the many bizarre sitcoms that seem to exist only in the band's collective mind), and the Merle Haggard-on-ludes ballad "Hamburger Girl" (a heartfelt tribute to the greasy spoons of South Florida). Finally compiled for a public audience, Pass Out stands as a gloriously whacked tribute to creative genius left out in the Miami sun a little too long. It's also thankfully still a work in progress; the second half of the CD contains new songs from the recently reformed Trash Monkeys. If anything they seem even more deranged with the passage of time. Long may they stagger.
A South Florida native who rocks, singer/songwriter DeNisco has been playing guitar since childhood and performing professionally for thirteen years. Now living in Dania Beach, she's a regular on Miami-Dade stages. Riding the wake of her first CD, 1995's On My Way (which garnered two Billboard songwriting awards for the ditties "I Belong with You" and "Mystic Tune"), she's now pushing her latest release, Winds of a Dream. A six-song disc she simply calls "pop-orientated acoustic rock," it's a perfect platform for her to showcase a clear, touching, sometimes raspy voice. You can catch DeNisco performing in local clubs about four times a week. Sometimes it's just her and a guitar. Other times she's with her full band. No matter who she's with, you won't be able to resist the rock or the voice.
No other Miami frontman can carry you through a tune like Endo's Gil Bitton. First, understand the jet-fueled rock Endo belts out lands somewhere between Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. Second, realize Bitton puts everything he has into a performance, prowling the stage and gesticulating to each break-neck beat, delving deep into his diaphragm for a sound that pushes the band's already aggressive music to a new-found intensity. After a set he's spent -- drenched in sweat and exhausted. Bitton's energetic presence and distinct voice have helped Endo create a bit of a stir around the country. Late last year New York's Concrete Management began to represent the group (in addition to famed clients Ministry and Pantera). Impressed as well were the folks at the very-selective South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, who invited the band to perform this past March. Judging by the recent release of Endo's second album, the rousing Evolve, featuring Bitton's searing vocals, who knows what the future will bring?
This welcoming second-floor rabbit warren of rooms located in the heart of downtown Miami was ahead of the pack in the area's renaissance. In fact it's still way ahead of everyone else. Opened in the late Nineties by David Haskin, the Wallflower was strictly art based at first, with the occasional cultural gathering. The art exhibitions -- sculpture, paintings, and what-have-you displayed and dispersed throughout the various spaces -- continue. But as a music-listening venue, the Wallflower began to bloom in early 1999 when Flash, former funkfinder at Lincoln Road's defunct Funktional Funk, assumed the programming and managing reins. Since then the place, so desolate and deserted from the outside at night, has come alive inside every weekend showcasing a who's who of talent in several genres. Spoken word events occur on a monthly basis. Workshops devoted to holistic health are plentiful too. But it's the performances by nearly every local band active in Miami -- Sixo, Swivel Stick, the Square Egg, Mantra, and the Gabe Dixon Band, to name a few -- that really draw crowds. The six-buck cover buys entry into an all-ages show, sans alcohol. Coffee, tea, juices, and healthy snacks are served. Smoking is allowed -- in one room. Music aficionados can purchase CDs on the premises or settle on the comfy furniture, watching or listening from almost anywhere. Just about the entire gallery is wired for video and sound. And the sounds, well, they're the best reason of all to be there.
Forget everything you've heard about Lynyrd Skynyrd's snarling Floridian frontman dying in a fiery 1977 plane crash. He's alive and well, just as pissed off as ever about the sorely maligned Southern Man, and presently heading up local outfit the Holy Rollin' Hellfires. That Dixie-steeped flavor of old is still there, complete with stinging, barbed-wirelike guitar work and a country blues sense of twang. But it's been accelerated, dragged through the punk-rock blender, and come out the other end angrily distorted. Of course as anyone who's seen the Hellfires perform live can tell you, it's best not to spend too much time analyzing the group's sonic spin on white-trash harmonics. Instead stand back. Way back. Lead singer Billy McKelvy has some novel ideas about breaking down that fourth wall, and his impassioned growling, howling, and frantic arm-flailing isn't always safely confined to the stage. Rock and roll may have become a spent cultural force in Miami, but the sight of its death throes can be an impressive thing to behold.
Music by the light of the moon -- an intoxicating combination. Certainly something that's gone on forever and a day. But on a regular basis in Miami? Apparently not. That is until 1995, when Barnacle State Historic Site park manager Terry Coulliette and friends dreamed up the idea for the Barnacle Under Moonlight concert series. The idea: Once a month, on or near the full moon (except during July and August), host a concert on the expansive back lawn of the charming Vernacular-style house built on five acres of waterfront property in 1891 by Coconut Grove pioneer Ralph Middleton Munroe. A serene setting, which calls for relaxed sounds. Various acts have been in the folk or blues vein, such as Ukrainian bandurist Yarko, local pair Outta d'Blues, and eclectic acoustic duo Tammerlin. A Celtic thing happens in honor of St. Patrick's Day, and the Top Brass Quintet plays Christmas carols in December. Florida songster Grant Livingston, the first musician ever to perform there, now traditionally closes the series each year. Listeners are invited to lounge on blankets or chairs, have a picnic, and frolic in the grass as long as they fork over five bucks (kids under age ten get in free) and leave their pets at home. Another thing they can't bring along: booze. But that's okay. The moonlight, music, and atmosphere are more than enough to make them drunk.