Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Churchill's has pretty much stayed the same for 30 years while fancier newcomers have come and tanked. Why? Because the place has stuck to the magic formula of successful, no-frill rock clubs: a strict commitment to live music (no bullshit DJ nights), cheap drinks, and regrettable bathrooms. Pretty much anyone can play here, and as any number of local micro-scenes are born and die, they all, at some point, touch on Churchill's. Anything goes here, from sold-out shows by touring blog-buzz bands, to experimental theater, to low-budget porn shoots. So the place, thankfully, seems to repel gentrification. It's a good bet that after the nuclear holocaust, the survivors will still gather at Churchill's, blithely awaiting the first of ten bands to go on at midnight.
Almost three years ago, ¡Mayday! released its self-titled debut solo album to serious Internet buzz and positive critical reception. On the strength of that disc's breakout single, "Groundhog Day," which featured Cee-Lo singing the hook, it seemed like ¡Mayday! was ready for national play. But after a couple of years on the grind, founding members Plex Luthor and Bernbiz decided to switch things up and get back on their hometown's radar. As such, they've ditched their earlier, sampler-heavy sound in favor of a more organic, live band approach. They've added four new members, including battle champ MC Wrekonize. The new equation has proven to be alchemy — Luthor, Bernbiz, and company have stepped up their live game, laying down a soulful hip-hop funk with an electric energy. We've heard that at an occasional residency at Jazid, their live jams have inspired people to disrobe. You'll have to see for yourself.
Playing live around town for less than a year, the shadowy character known as Panic Bomber has already developed some minor lore. Legend has it that once upon a time, Richard Haig was a local rock musician who got fed up with the grind of being hustled offstage in time for the night's main event — a DJ. So he turned to dance music himself, supposedly in an act of defiance that's explained, sort of, in a treatise on his website. Whatever. The music he makes, regardless of the reasoning behind it, is slick and dance-friendly. It works up to a funky electro-house groove that's rough enough around the edges to belie its creator's rock roots. And unable to fully relinquish a band's spectacle of performance, Haig has devised a pretty sweet light-up costume. Look out for him at a more discerning — hmmm, some would say "hip" — dance club near you.
To call these guys simply a "rock band" would be woefully leaving out a large chunk of their musical stew. Disco, soul, funk, and a large dose of the Purple One all figure into the sound. Still, it rocks. And though they broke up for a minute a couple of years ago, it didn't last long, and ever since then, they've been stepping up their game, touring and appearing at industry requisite events such as CMJ and South by Southwest. Around here, though, the band remains one of the most universally loved live acts, creating an instant dance party within the first few bars. Here's further proof they're in tune with the cultural Zeitgeist: Not only did they put their recent full-length, Rational Geographic Vol. 1, up for free download on their website, but also they somehow got Blair Waldorf herself — Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester — to record a cover of their song "Birthday." For real. OMG!
Is Poison the Well a surprise pick? No, but it's time to give credit where it is long overdue. Frontman Jeffrey Moreira reps Hialeah (hard), and the rest of the members hail from towns across South Florida. Poison the Well sprang from the same fabled anything-goes, late-'90s South Florida hardcore/punk scene as fellow success stories Shai Hulud and New Found Glory. PTW has reached the same cult level of underground/overground success (even releasing one disc on a major, Atlantic). But unlike its peers, the band never switched its original home base. No, Poison the Well deserves props for relentlessly touring the world, playing to frothing American and European crowds, and then returning home to joltingly sunny South Florida. What's more, PTW puts the same level of balls-to-the-wall energy into its decidedly more intimate hometown gigs, playing for rabid longtime fans at places such as Churchill's Pub. Further, the band has continued a path of out-there musical innovation, melding its hardcore roots into spaced-out, experimental workouts that play as well on a home stereo as at a show. The band's latest album, The Tropic Rot, was released digitally this past May through Ferret Music. The physical release is this summer, and it comes an impressive ten years after the group's debut full-length, The Opposite of December. Happy anniversary, guys.
Here in Miami, there's certainly no lack of talented Latin crooners. Still, the young balladeer known as Jean stands above the rest. This Puerto Rican-raised popster, who's also the younger brother of Latin superstar Luis Fonsi, has been building a solid and loyal following through a unique take on Latin R&B. What makes Jean exceptional is his natural knack for mixing Spanish, English, and even Spanglish (some might say Miami's unofficial language) with homebrewed beats from the finest urban Latin producers in the city. And though Jean has remained a local phenomenon for the past few years, that might soon change with the release of his sophomore album, Out the Box, which is beginning to get airplay on Latin radio.
There's something truly refreshing about Hialeah's six-piece Electric Piquete. They don't seem to be concerned with following trends, so their fresh, jazzy Latin sound is miles away from that of any other local band. Founded in 2007, Electric Piquete debuted at Churchill's yearly HialeahFest, where the sextet's unforgettable performance quickly led to more gigs. Their sound collage is dominated by suave horns that slowly build up into a cool and steady Latin jazz vibe. The past two years have seen the band grow in popularity and land steady gigs at Jazid and Tobacco Road. And with more live appearances coming up every month — they are even going to play some Saturday nights at Marlins games this summer and fall — Electric Piquete will spread calm and breezy Latin beats to chill out our often-steamy city.
Every once in a while, there's a band that gets everything right: the right sound, the right look, and, more important, the right vibe. The genre-defying Kayakman fits perfectly with our city's eclectic ambiance. The group's Latin American musicians love mixing things up, fusing sultry tango with Caribbean rhythms over a solid punk-rock beat. A main reason for the foursome's tight clatter is singer/guitarist's Leonardo Vega's past gig as an axe man for Manu Chao, the international gypsy superstar. In the past couple of months, the band has scored a weekly show at Churchill's on Tuesdays that has been attracting hundreds of new fans to the group's biweekly shows on Española Way in Miami Beach. With a new album — the excellent Let's Go Fellas — Kayakman seems poised to be one of the most popular bands in the city.
There's something to be said about a killer rhythm section. A great drummer combined with a gifted bassist can make or break any band. Luckily, the stunning boys of Dangerflow know very well how to get down and dirty with thick-ass bass lines that will make you jump to the nearest dance floor. Formed in late 2007, Dangerflow is that rare Miami group that knows how to mix funky reggae with hip-hop and Latin. The band's multicultural lineup — with percussionist Mauricio Estrada and drummer Jermaine D. Dukes — excels at keeping a cool and loose island vibe. Dangerflow also uniquely mixes the sweet, dancehall-tinged vocals of singer Eric Stinnett with energetic raps by MC Ocean. Like other great Miami groups (Locos por Juana and Spam Allstars) Dangerflow knows how to bring out the finest musical elements of its members' respective cultures and then transform that sound into something distinctively Miami.
Straight up, Dino Felipe is weird. This should come as no surprise given the local label through which he releases his music. Schematic is home of fellow freaks such as the scatologically obsessed Otto von Schirach. Dino doesn't tour much, blithely explaining it away with his lack of a job, driving skills, and a booking agent. No matter; he has gained a cult national reputation on the strength of his music alone, which can veer from experimental noise to post-punky cold wave, from ambient textures to strangely danceable rhythms. And if approval by geographic outsiders matters, well, last year the notoriously cranky critics at Pitchfork Media gave Felipe's No Fun demo a 7.2 (out of 10). Of course, his legend has been helped along by the Internet as well. Out-of-towners can use YouTube to witness parts of his legendary, somewhat rare live performances around town, which usually find him naked and sweating, Iggy Pop-style. Felipe might be as elusive as Sasquatch but, we promise, is 90 percent less hairy and 300 percent more entertaining.
Local jazz fans are lucky to have a star such as Silvano Monasterios playing in our mist. A bona fide piano prodigy, he was born in Venezuela and schooled at the University of Miami's prestigious music program. The always-cool Monasterios then stuck around the city and became the most admired and requested piano jazz man in town. He has performed with legends such as Paquito D' Rivera and Nestor Torres. In 2004, he won Downbeat magazine's Best Jazz Instrumental Soloist award. And in 2008, the Sammy Figueroa album The Magician — for which Monasterios wrote and produced two tracks — received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. Monasterios's active schedule takes him all around the nation, but he still works his magic in Miami, where he routinely plays gigs at hot spots such as the Van Dyke, the Globe, and the Adrienne Arsht Center. If you love jazz, chances are you've seen Monasterios perform somewhere in Miami, where his flawless and cool piano work inspired your passion.
South Beach loves music that inspires snorting lines or sweeping the ground with one's hind parts. But it's not so hot for the kind of melody that makes people swing-dance, two-step, and do the running man. Yet each Tuesday night at the Florida Room, the Big Bounce — Brendan O'Hara & Komakozie (comprising singer/piano man O'Hara, beatboxer Michael "Komakozie" Rodney, and a rotating band of artists consisting of an upright bassist, a trumpeter, a saxophonist, and a tap dancer) crank out tunes that can be described as the love child of KRS-One and Bob Dylan. And guess what? Ten fingers, ten toes, this baby is a gem. They play songs such as "Champagne and Apple Juice," a cheeky ditty about a steamy night out turned morning after that leaves the lovers thirsty for an unorthodox type of mimosa. The sound showcases O'Hara's pop-perfect potential to rock the airwaves, but when Komakozie adds his oral bass to a track such as "Mistress," you kinda want the pair to remain your little secret. Perhaps B & Koz should patent their time machine. Or better yet, maybe they should give some whacked-out perfumer an inch of their skin so the essence of blue-eyed soul and classic hip-hop vibes could be extracted, bottled, and placed gingerly into our icebox for the rest of eternity. Till then, we'll just take what they give us — a weekly residency on SoBe and countless other performances around the Magic City and the nation.