Berlin's Walls

There was no giant crowd of underdressed and/or primped-up poseurs. No giant video screen relaying images of the evening's stars. A basketball game was on the tube instead. No giant parking lot, stage, or presentation. But December 14 was a night of giants at the Brickell Tavern.

Todd Anthony's ersatz South Florida Rock Awards honors were bestowed in this space December 4. He made fun of New Times, dissed Tara Solomon's towering hair, bemoaned the still-inadequately explained firing of Ben Peeler by the Mavericks. Brickell Tavern-owner Jerry Berlin and his wife/partner Diane were also prominently mentioned, which may be what motivated them to set aside December 14 to invite the various artists mentioned, whip up a buffet, and have special certificates printed. Between live sets, Jerry Berlin lugged his six-foot-four frame up to the stage and dutifully, almost formally, presented the award for Best Folk Singer Nobody Ever Heard Of, Female (Diane Ward, singer for the Wait who also won best female vocalist at the South

Florida Rock Awards). Members of the Volunteers showed up fresh from a gig at Churchill's Hideaway to accept Best (and Only) Band to Utilize Tin Whistle, Mandolin, and Tamborine in the Same Song. The Iko-Iko posse moseyed over from their set at Tobacco Road so skin-slapper and bell-ringer Glenn Caruba could collect for Best Non-Latin Percussionist. And many more.

The Berlins opened the Tavern on February 15, 1990. Jerry Berlin, 43, had more than a decade of local bartending experience, including nearly eight years at that blues bastion, Tobacco Road, and his wife possessed a similar background. "I was looking to get a place going," says Jerry, who often jams on harmonica with the bands at his club. "And this happened. I wanted my own scene, instead of following guidelines from somebody else, I wanted to do my own place, choosing my own type of music. I like rock, blues - hell, I even like Guns N' Roses, man, I swear. I didn't want to change the basics [of a nightclub] around, just modify them a bit. I guess it's a little bit neo-Sixties to a point, maybe. But the main thing is, let's have fun."

The Tavern, at 760 SW Second Ave., is fun, with regulars so far down-to-earth they're underground, junk stacked in handy places giving the joint a lived-in feel, a patio to clear the ol' noggin and take some fresh air. The stage has been placed in such a way as to maximize the number of good sight lines from the bar as well as the tables. Jerry Berlin's abstract paintings decorate the walls.

And right now Blizzy Nation is tearing the roof off the place. Blizzy, an outfit that changes personnel the way the Yankees change managers, is the weekend house band, and knocked out four soul-firing sets as host band for the New Times awards party.

Blizzy Nation is not, it would seem, any sort of prospect for major-label signing; they're not exuberant youngsters testing the waters of fame. They are five veterans whose music stands with any being put forth in South Florida at this time. "I would say the combined professional music experience of this band," says singer-guitarist Kathi Gibson, "is almost 100 years. I started on TV as a child banjo player. We're all about four million years old. But we keep doing this no matter what."

In October the band spent twelve hours over two days to record nine songs at Natural Sound in South Dade. With four previously recorded tracks, that adds up to an album, which will be shopped to labels and offered locally in a few weeks. "The best thing," Gibson says, "is to get some units sold, and some more sold, so when they ask, we can tell them we've sold this many or that many. Plus the funds from this will finance the recording of a second and third album. The songs for those are already written and are being performed. Sometimes we're scrambling to keep the electricity on, and recording is so expensive."

Spine-jolting, brain-stimulating rock and roll is not nearly so profitable as, say, the canned disco tracks you hear on urban radio and at major clubs. The five members of Blizzy Nation all work on the side. Gibson handles phone sales for the Coconut Grove Playhouse ("No one has to see my hair-do, just hear my voice"). Singer-guitarist Chris Limardo is a waitress, singer-percussionist Guille Garcia provides sound, booking, and guest percussion for other bands, singer-bassist Lancelot O'Blarney installs computer mainframes by night, and singer-drummer Zaido Cruz (stage name: Tony Satelite) cleans swimming pools. Together they crank out a varied but always romping rock sound that showcases all five members' multiple talents, including their songwriting. "We work low-level jobs so our energy is free for the music," Gibson says. "Lance works evenings so his appearance isn't a problem. We do things where the hours are flexible. But we have to work. I can't sleep on the floor any more."

This line-up has been together about a year now, and they believe they've finally found a workable mix of personalities. "We went through different rhythm sections," explains Guille Garcia, who, like Cruz, also plays guitar. "I've been with them two and a half years, but it's so hard to find good drummers, and bass players, too. That's critical to a percussionist, that has to click. So we were always searching for the right combination. I think this is the right combination."

The vast experience and the ability of each member to contribute in a variety of ways adds up to a live sound that should, if there was justice in this world, fill arenas as easily as it brings fans into the Brickell Tavern. (Blizzy plays other gigs, such as one that had them opening for the Outlaws and REO Speedwagon recently in West Palm Beach.) The recorded versions of songs such as "Deceiver" and "Hidden Secrets" and "Would You Believe" are equally devastating, driven by spectacular guitar leads, gut-filling percussion, colorful and smart drumming, chewy bass lines, immaculate arrangements, smooth harmonies - everything you could ask for from any band.

Thanks to the fact that the band has two female singer-guitarists (one blond, one brunette!), comparisons to Heart are inevitable, but Blizzy is a better band than that. They don't, for one thing, rely one one shtick endlessly repeated. Even when blistering guitar leads are set aside for shuffling six-string lines, the Nation's sound remains an exhilarating amalgam of pop and rock, melodies always at the fore, arrangements always given full consideration, the results consistently magical.

Adding to their masterful renderings of original material at the Brickell Tavern on December 14 were acoustic sets by artists such as Jonelle, Jim Baumann, David Andrews, and Diane Ward, who enjoys a second life as a soloist outside her work with the Wait. Each displayed their grossly underrated talents to full effect - these folks can sing the lights out of a GE factory. You'd never know it unless you spent some time in dark corners.

There was quite a bit of talent on display that night - Anthony's half-flippant article had a more profound effect than he could have imagined. If you like high quality music, make it a point to drop by the Brickell Tavern. It'll be a revelation.


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