Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
To say that Ruined — Lynn Nottage's searing drama about life in a shady bar during one of the Republic of Congo's many civil wars — contains a multitude of moving parts is an understatement. On a superlative scenic design that looked twice the size it actually was, Joseph Adler met and exceeded the requirements of this ambitious play during its GableStage production. He created a perpetual motion machine of busy bustle across the beautifully ramshackle sprawl, from the musicians performing onstage right to the pool tables and small outdoor setting on stage left. By loading the show with action on all sides, he successfully oversaw the illusion of real life — music and dance, laughter and leisure, dread and danger — under a soundtrack of machine-gun fire and falling bombs. But this masterful direction excelled in the micro as well as the macro, taking great care to inspire intense performances we've never seen before from the largest cast ever assembled at GableStage, including a top-form Lela Elam as the morally ambiguous whorehouse proprietor.
Dissonant, jangly, raw, powerful. This is the sound of Teepee, and it's one of the most captivating sounds on Miami's fascinating aural landscape. Those seeking rock 'n' roll roots, postpunk attitude, and experimental noise will find something to dance to in this primal yet melodic project. Teepee is led by mastermind Erix S. Laurent and fleshed out by Andrew McLees and Dion Keith Kerr IV, a trio that just wrapped up a nationwide tour with stops in North Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. Locally, Teepee makes regular waves at clubs such as Bardot and Churchill's. Listen to the ten-track album Distant Love or: Time Never Meant Anything, and Never Will and you might think you've fallen into the glory days of the dark and driving '80s, à la Jesus and the Mary Chain. But this big sound settles nicely into the modern scene as a break from the pop-saturated situation. If rock 'n' roll and analog instrumentation stand a chance of revival, Teepee might just be pointing the way.
While most 20-year-olds are stuck in school or working their way through some shitty desk job, Kairo Gudino stalks record stores and thrift shops as he builds an unstoppable brand. He possesses the kind of talent that makes people give artists everything they need — money, food, plane tickets, a place to stay — just so the magic can keep flowing. You might have seen him on fliers as Chalk.; playing shows at Bardot, Purdy Lounge, the Vagabond; and holding down a residency at Blackbird Ordinary's weekly Tuesday ladies' night. Sometimes he works with Metro Zu and the Raider Klan, and sometimes he even gets on a microphone. But he really shines when he sits behind his laptop. That's all he needs. This sleeper star has enough old-school house, funk, disco, hip-hop, and rock records to fill a boutique. He's prolific, constantly working on six or seven songs a month. His style is smooth, reminiscent of the golden age of soulful house, as if the aura of the '90s era into which he was born tattooed itself on his brain. He might not be the hottest name on the local scene, but that won't last for long. Some of the biggest acts on the underground vibe scene are talking about him and playing his tracks at festivals and clubs the world over. Don't be surprised when you can't escape Chalk. Just remember, you heard it here first.
Xela Zaid has been lurking on the Miami music scene longer than some regular local musicians have been on Earth. More important, in that time his music has grown ever more subversively brilliant, finding an increasingly vital, comfortable niche in Dade's noise underground. Lest you accuse Zaid of diving off some musical deep end, he's maintained a characteristic sound that has never strayed far from his distinctive style. From writing catchy songs in his early years (before he decided to spell his name backward) to his current experiments in ambient dissonance, Zaid remains an original. He's never been one to take any instrument at face value; early experiments included shoving a mike into the sound hole of an acoustic guitar and inventing a unique tuning for the instrument. His strums conjure the aural illusion of a spectral bassist accompanying his hushed, raspy voice. His mid-'90s CD, Motorama, released under the moniker "Ho Chi Minh," remains one of the indie masterpieces that most people have never heard. His even lesser-known followup, 2001's Summerwood, proved he was no flash in the pan. The dude should have become a household name by the time this millennium arrived, but those planets never aligned — or maybe he was ahead of his time. Zaid continued his evolution through a few noteworthy EPs. Nowadays, you might hear him twiddling knobs on a small transistor radio hooked up to a pitch shifter while exploring a new form of ambient music on the back patio of Churchill's, his preferred venue. Few musicians on Miami's scene are as devoted to the journey of music on as pure a level.
If you're privileged (ahem, old) enough to remember the heyday of 94.9 Zeta and the radio station's catchy rock rotation, you'll appreciate the driving force that is Day Music Died. The men behind the alt-rock-meets-jazz band have been rocking the scene for more than ten years. Gabriel Fernandez (vocals), Tony Guilarte (rhythm guitar), David Alvarez (lead guitar), Eddie Planas (bass), Nick Lebess (drums), and Humberto Casanova (keyboard/sax) recently released their second studio album, Elephant in the Room, a followup to 2005's The Cardboard Score. DMD's sound ranges from songs such as "Maybe," a haunting melody with something hidden —"I'd like to forget the past/'cause maybe you would stay/maybe you would stay if you knew" — to the catchy, driving, yet honest chorus of "Rid of Me." Catch the Miami six-piece live, and it's clear these guys aren't lying when they say they're together not only for the love of music but also the chemistry and brotherhood they feel onstage.
R&B, for cool kids at least, has been out in the cold for years, looking in from the outside as hipsters embraced every genre from roots country to cumbia to metal. Now, finally, R&B looks ready to re-enter the fold of what's cool, relevant, and fresh, as artists such as Frank Ocean and Abel Tesfaye not only receive wide-spread accolades from music critics but also sell tons of records and concert tickets. Growing in that same vein is Miami's own Steven A. Clark, who imbues his soulful songs with a distinct gravity. Somehow he doesn't lose the airy elegance and grace from note to note that's always been characteristic of the best R&B songs, from Seal's classics to Ocean's modern odes to smoothness. Clark's body of work — a debut EP, Stripes, and the follow-up LP, Fornication Under Consent of the King — showcases a diverse sense of style and a keen sense of musicianship that become all the more palpable when you take into account that nearly every one of the songs, which can all be downloaded at Clark's website, was not only written but also produced by this silky-voiced, provocative singer-songwriter. Listen to tracks such as "F.U.C.K. Pt. 1" and "The Haunting" and it's tough to argue the point that R&B is damn cool again. Even better, thanks to Clark, Miami has its very own contribution to the world of grooving seduction and lyrical lovemaking.
Who would have thought the once-bratty Johnny Rotten (né John Lydon) of the pioneering mid-'70s UK punk band the Sex Pistols would front a follow-up group that would still have any sort of creative verve in the following millennium? Yet when Public Image Ltd took the stage at Miami's Grand Central last October, they put on a brilliant, vital show with musicianship and social consciousness to boot that would shame most hipster acts of today. Many a young musician could learn something from PiL. For aged punks/postpunkers, the talent onstage was consistently impressive, and — in an even rarer move for Miami shows — they started right on time. Guitarist Lu Edmonds occasionally played an electric saz (a Middle Eastern stringed instrument) and shone during songs that never lost their unrelenting groove. Lydon's voice shifted and morphed from warbles to buzz-saw growls and barks across many a meandering song, including back-catalogue highlights such as "This Is Not a Love Song" and "U.S.L.S. 1" to brand-new numbers like "Reggie Song." The audience, which ranged from late-'70s punks to kids who grew up in the '90s MTV alternative nation, mostly nodded along, though an even older crowd managed to pogo for a few minutes at a time. Aging legs in the crowd or not, PiL barreled through a two-hour set as a brilliantly preserved relic with nothing to prove. They were skilled, mature musicians putting on an earnest show for a crowd more interested in the music than making an appearance on the scene. In the Magic City, that's a rare achievement indeed.
Have you seen that new video for that Kodiak Fur song "Lips"? It's crazy. There's this superhot blond chick. She's like a hooker or something. She goes over to this dude's hotel room and strips down to her lingerie. Then she leans over the guy and just starts sucking. I mean, this chick is like a human Dyson vacuum. She doesn't let up. She's slurping up every last drop, and then when she's done, she licks her lips to make sure she's got it all. Wait, Mom, ew. I'm not talking about a porno. Why would I tell you about that? It's like some artsy music video for a promising local electro-dream-pop quartet. She's not sucking, you know — she's like some demon sucking the life force out of this dude's mouth. They barely even touch. It's like some special effects. You used to drag me to all those French films at the art-house cinema when I was a kid, so I just wanted to get your opinion on what you thought it, you know, meant. Never mind!
Some bars are dubbed "dives" based solely on cheap prices and low lighting. But others earn their cred based on more fundamental assets: a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke, well-worn pool tables, deep-fried foodstuffs, and a colorful cast of constantly inebriated characters. Little Hoolie's has earned its stripes the real way — through years of doling out stiff drinks to thirsty boozers from Kendall and South Miami. Roll up to the strip mall and easily snag a spot in the ample parking lot. Drink a cheap pitcher or two and take the stage for a round of karaoke without fear of ridicule. Play a game of pool with a wannabe hustler. Nosh on the famous Hoolie's Blue Balls, fried ham-and-Swiss-stuffed chicken ($7.95). Happy hour starts at 11 a.m. weekdays, so you've got a whopping nine hours to get your discounted-drink on. Plus you can score $9 domestic pitchers when the Dolphins, Hurricanes, Marlins, and white-hot Heat are playing. It's a southern comfort zone all its own.
Magnum is like that old friend who, no matter how many years pass between visits, always stays awesomely, delightfully, perfectly the same. This piano bar seems to be an anomaly — in the best way possible — in a city obsessed with what's new and on trend. Why shouldn't Magnum be comfortable sticking to what it knows: belting out classic tunes and whipping up stiff drinks. There is no fuss here. You won't find "expert mixologists" or the city's hottest DJ. Instead, the dark ambiance begs you to cozy up to the bar and order a classic dirty martini. (There isn't a cocktail menu here, so don't bother asking for one.) And calling this place a "gay bar" does a disservice to the eclectic clientele that visits the lounge week after week seeking live music, amazing fried chicken, and fantastic drinks. Magnum isn't a gay bar; it's a bar that just happens to be gay. And once this city's obsession with the cocktail tomfoolery ends, Magnum will be there to welcome you back with a drink and a song. Just be sure to tip your bartender and piano man.
Wanna sip thick, creamy pints of Guinness in an authentic Irish pub? Go book a flight to Dublin, you wanker. If, however, you're simply looking to get rat-arsed at a nice, smoky spot while waiting for Aer Lingus jet planes to finish fueling up on leprechaun piss at Miami International Airport, meet us at Bryson's, a Miami Springs bar and liquor store that's painted white and green and adorned with four-leaf clovers. Inside, this joint is all wood paneling, tile floors, neon signs, big-screen TV sets, and fake-leather booths. There's no 1,000-year-old ornamental timber or bloodied shillelagh behind the bar. But the beer is cold. The burgers are thick. The whiskey is Jameson. And the regulars are cops, contractors, ex-military types, working-class drunks, hard-partying gals, neighborhood nobs, sweet chippies, and the like. Of course, though, the ultimate evidence of Bryson's being the dog's bollocks are the house rules, which prove that this brood can get just as weird and rowdy as a real gang of native Irish: "No fighting, shoving, scratching, biting, nor touching of the hair and face." So drink, eat, be merry. But keep those hands to yourself, boyo.
"Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name..." Eh, forget that Cheers crap. What you really want is a solid bar in your hood where you can grab a drink without anyone judging you. In other words, a comfortable spot. When you're in the northern reaches of Dade County, there's no better bet than Our Place. Legend has it a bar patron once walked through the door in pink cupcake pajamas. No one batted an eye. This lovely hole in the wall is situated inside a small shopping center on the Miami Lakes border with Hialeah, right off the NW 67th Avenue exit of the Palmetto Expressway. Inside, patrons include happy lushes soaking up DJ Manny's Top 40 tunes, shady booze-hounds itching for a bar brawl, and smooth-drinking hustlers looking to take a few suckers at a game of pool or poker. Drinks are cheap and stronger than Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez at the height of his supremacy. With its wood-paneled and red-brick walls, superchill bar staff, and quirky crowd, Our Place has that odd charm that draws you in for a cold brew. Before you know it, you're doing Jäger bombs till last call.