Back in the LSD-soaked '60s, a big, boxy San Francisco building named the Fillmore Auditorium was routinely overrun by love-crazed hippies, radical longhairs, speed-addled bikers, middle-aged beatniks, and endless other freaky types in search of mind-bending, stroboscopic, all-night parties, known in those days as happenings.
Operated by now-mythic rock 'n' roll promoter Bill Graham, the Fillmore was the de facto focal point of the West Coast's countercultural universe. And its wild, thronging mob was a mostly young, unwashed cohort deeply devoted to the pursuit of sex, drugs, and happiness — along with psychedelic guru Dr. Timothy Leary's trippy dictum, "Tune in, turn on, and drop out," and the bluesy rock ramble of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Today, Graham is dead and the Fillmore (plus a chain of offspring in cities such as New York, Charlotte, and Miami Beach) is run by Beverly Hills-based monolith Live Nation Entertainment. But you can be sure the counterculture still lives. It's just that the happenings would be better described as raves. The Dead would be given a drum machine and tagged a jamtronica band. The politics would be shed in favor of pop culture meta-irony. The acid would be replaced with Ecstasy, DMT, and Red Bull. And the Pocahontas braids would be swapped for yarn hair.
Now perhaps the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater is a peculiar case that's not particularly representative of the broader American concert scene. But over the past six months, this clubby electronic counterculture and a few of its newer offshoots have been gradually usurping increasingly significant slices of the Fillmore Miami Beach's show schedule.
After massively sold-out gigs by MGMT and Phoenix in the waning months of 2010, the Fillmore's indie rock, soul, and singer-songwriter nights have sometimes struggled to bring out the thronging mobs and pack the cushy, upholstered seats. A couple of the most dismally underattended recent performances were Wolf Parade and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. But even former Miami resident Iron & Wine and aging indie wunderkind Conor Oberst were unable to lure large segments of the contemporary unwashed cohort.
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Meanwhile, a string of crossover electro-pop, indie-dance, and DJ shows, including LCD Soundsystem's October concert and Pretty Lights' performance during Miami Music Week, have begun to bring back the happening, packing skinny hipsters, club kids, jam junkies, electro exiles, and fist-pumping jocks into the Fillmore's 4,000-capacity main cave. And the latest sign of this fast-rising movement toward theater-size dance parties is the Honeymoon Series, a new monthly dubstep showcase orchestrated by Live Nation and Embrace that launched just last week with a Saturday show by Canadian bass bone-crusher Datsik.
Even so, it would probably be premature to rant out loud and in public about the Fillmore's status as a stronghold of some quasi-hippie, neo-rave revolution, especially if you ask the opinion of the venue's parent company. "There is no shift in focus. The Fillmore will continue to book and promote all genres of music," insists a Live Nation spokesman who didn't want to be named. "Electronic music, especially dubstep, is an increasingly growing genre across the country, and we want to continue to be a part of that growth."
And as far as the suits are concerned, it's not really about a great new countercultural wave. It's just good business with superheavy bass, some strobes, and a few bent minds. "With the success of other electronic events that have been held at the Fillmore over the past year and the success that Embrace has had in promoting electronic shows in Miami, it seemed natural for us to partner up on a monthly series at the Fillmore," the Live Nation rep explains. "We're doing our best to provide music that we feel people want to see."
So, to paraphrase Dr. Leary: Pay up, show up, and shake some ass.