Sheila Witkin Memorial Reunion Concert
August 29 & 30, 2008
Club Cinema, Pompano Beach
Better Than: Recreating the soundtrack to 21 Jump Street.
The second annual Sheila Witkin Memorial Reunion Concert (a mouthful, right?) rocked through Club Cinema this past Friday and Saturday nights, gathering some of the best bands from the vaunted, early ΄80s South Florida rock scene for two nights of celebration, reflection, and tribute.
For a little more back-story on the whats and whys of the show, check out our write up from the Night & Day section. To sum it up short like, the brought together nearly a dozen of Florida’s most interesting and somewhat unheralded rock acts, recalling a time when the scene here was so vibrant there were packed shows every night of the week. The concert – the second of its kind – is so named because Sheila Witkin, one time manager of the local band Tight Squeeze, was like a mother to the scene. She passed away in 2006, prompting her son Bruce and his friend and fellow promoter Martin Chaddock to get the whole rowdy gang of new wave and punk bands back together in her honor.
But things didn’t kick off Friday with a nostalgic blast from the past. Instead, Pembroke Pines’ Blank Tape took the stage, a band whose median age is closer to 15 than 50. Their guitarist and vocalist, Lennon Livesay, is actually the son of Slyder guitarist and vocalist Bill Livesay, who played later in the night. It’s clear Livesay the junior is following in his father’s footsteps – their melodic, energetic punk definitely caught the crowd’s attention despite being new to most of them.
The one thing that was clear throughout the night was these bands were here to have fun. Charlie Pickett popped on stage and powered through a set that would’ve been just as comfortable in a smoke-filled honky tonk. Slyder looked like kids again, especially tearing through a powerful rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Shelter” that stretched on with extended solos and plenty of soulful vocals. Tight Squeeze, with a number of guest musicians filling in, treated their time like a punk rock jam session, full of tunes both dirge-y and high-tempo.
The biggest surprise of the night might have been how good the Romantics sounded. With South Florida’s own Coz Canler on lead guitar, the Detroit band poured energy into their set of new wave classics. From the opening belt of Wally Palmer’s harmonica to the closing notes of to the infamous “What I Like About You,” the Romantics’ set was wild as hell. As the local connection, Coz showed his chops, tearing through garage-flecked solos and even popping on the bass for a few songs. And new-ish drummer Brad Elvis was also right on point, despite hamming it up by flinging his sticks high in the air and catching them (sometimes).
After a heartfelt introduction the Kids came out to a wail of screams – many of them because the band is that good, and seeing them together is a rare treat. But also because the band’s guitarist, Johnny Depp, showed up to play with his old band. From the minute he took the stage a sea wall of camera phones lit up the entire venue, as desperate school-aged girls and even some rock hardened old dudes tried to snap pics of the Hollywood star. The cool thing was how graciously Depp and the Kids handled it. Johnny smiled wide, shook hands with some fans, but said nary a word, preferring to deliver his still-solid guitar work from a spot somewhere behind his band mates. Even though most of the eyes in the crowd were clearly on him, Johnny, looking more boyish than ever in an outsized t-shirt and a flannel clasped around his waist, somehow redirected that energy. In the end, I think people managed to get past the celebrity and focus on the Kids’ music – an unconventional mix of power pop and Costello-infused lyrics that lingered on the crowd long after the last note rang.
Personal Bias: Seeing Another Night at the Agora really primed me up for this show. It was cool to hear a lot of the songs live that I already knew.
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Random Detail: Bartenders and Club Cinema dress like they’re manning the poles at Club Chubby. There was WAY more ass behind them bars than needed to be seen.
By the Way: The vibe was pretty friendly for a rock show, but even the club security was caught up in the moment. I’ve never seen guards smile and interact with patrons more in my life.
-- John Linn