Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The crux of Death and Harry Houdini is the titular magician's lifelong battle with death — his perpetual desire to cheat his demise. But beyond that, nothing about the story of this visiting production from the House Theatre of Chicago sticks out. The dialogue and thinly explored romance certainly won't win any awards. But what does impress is the spectacle. The House Theatre specializes in stylized, innovative theatrical experiments, where sound and design elements break new ground. Death and Harry Houdini, which launched the company in 2001 and is continually revived by popular demand, epitomizes its MO. It was a genuine magic show as much as a play, with Dennis Watkins, as Houdini, performing both close-up tricks and ambitious feats, from walking barefoot on a stream of broken glass to escaping a locked straitjacket, swallowing razor blades, and dangling in a booth of water. Video projection, smoke machines, stilt walkers, inspired choreography, colorful costumes, and fun audience participation further cemented an unforgettable sensorial experience.
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.