1921, Fort Lauderdale
Friday, January 22, 2010
Better Than: Having someone say, "It's not you, it's me" through a medium other than rock music.
Have we just been dumped? There have been so many hot, sweaty nights that South Florida music fans have spent watching the blues-infused rock outfit Stonefox get drunk and loud at local bars with stages. And Saturday, it all came down to frontman Jordan Asher delivering a quick kiss-off: "South Florida, you've been fucking awesome. See you around."
But have we been "fucking awesome," or was Asher just letting us down easy?
Such awkward moments in life often beg the question, who's breaking up with whom? In the case of two of Stonefox's members - Asher and bassist Ross Fuentes - departing for northern climes, we have to wonder, did we have a hand in this? It's not you, it's me! Right?
The band's farewell show came this past Friday at 1921, a strange little underground venue. Tucked into an infrequently trafficked south Lauderdale neighborhood, it's entered through a back door, decorated like an opium den, and decked out with a large stage to showcase a full-sized band. It seemed fitting for Stonefox, who at final count earned its stripes with two 12-track albums, five East Coast tours and several smaller tours, and constant local gigging at every available stage in town.
Flashbulbs popped before the set as the band posed for photographers. Fans, friends, and fellow local musicians, representing at least six other bands, arrived early to chat with the boys and pay their respects. More than 60 other locals filled out the dance floor and adjacent lounge, most of them there for one reason: to get properly kissed goodbye.
Come 11 p.m., the steadily growing crowd filtered into the dark little den housing the stage. People stood shoulder to shoulder (although there was still ample wiggle room). The band thus opened the night with "What You've Got," from its first album, Dead in the Sun. A descending three-chord guitar riff started it off right, followed hard upon by a funky, low bassline emerging in time with the snare drum. The song dropped into a moody, layered groove as Asher's scratchy voice rose above all, wailing, "Oh, give me a preacher/Give me a creature that knows my name."
The second song, "Man Behind the Curtain," came off the band's second album, Back on the Wire, and drove faster and rocked harder than the first. This is when a few members of the crowd caught a fever that started them jumping up and down. But it wasn't contagious. Most of the crowd, from the girls in sundresses bobbing in front of the stage to the guys in baseball caps sipping beer between rhythmic head nods, was comparatively chill.
The band, meanwhile was giving 110 percent. For proof one needed only to look at drummer Jeff Rosenthal as he pounded away in the back; his head was turned to the side, his face twisting into shapes from the exertion. Asher and fellow guitarist Dave Barnard in turn locked into a groove that sent their heads banging and their bodies doing half-bends, delivered with a synchronicity that makes it difficult to imagine any of them playing with anyone else.
The openers were followed hard upon by a mix of tunes off of the band's two CDs, such as "Long Way Home," "Back on the Wire," "Go Back to California," and a standout Dead in the Sun track, "Airportant." That last one repeated the line that brought the evening as close to a sing-along as it would ever get, with several members of the crowd chanting, "All you ever wanted to be was important/ You never saw it coming/ I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
Towards the end of the hour-plus set, Asher looked spent. "I'm gonna fucking pass out. We got two more," he said. His hair was a web of black strands stuck to his face and the three other boys were panting wildly.
That didn't stop Asher from dancing his way into the crowd, banging a tambourine and making contact with many in the audience. He sand "Hey, hey," over and over, trying to rouse a response from the lumbering masses. The response was less than overwhelming. Perhaps the glum spirits arose from the fact that Asher's glamorous presence, much like a gleeful soon-to-be ex-lover parading his charms during a final encounter, is soon to be a memory.
By the time the last blast of feedback poured from the club's speakers, Asher had fallen back on his ass, and Barnard had fallen to his knees in the direction of the drum kit. Fuentes had managed to keep relative composure (even his hair was still intact), but Rosenthal, eyes closed, still pounded out a few last climactic beats in an ultimate rock ending.
Stonefox was done.
Immediately, Asher ran to wrap Rosenthal in a hug. A few moments later, all four members of the band duly embraced, and turned to the crowd, arms linked, for a final bow. It was professional, sincere and, let the record not fail to note, adorable.
If you're still aching for a little consolation about the loss of Stonefox, Asher offers a few words about the breakup: "It didn't work out. We'll keep in touch, of course. We just grew apart."
Personal Bias: The notebook in my hand was pretty much the only thing that kept me from rushing the stage, falling to my knees and begging Stonefox to give it a little longer. I've seen this band about ten times. Between tireless touring and meticulous studio work, these guys have built a lot of momentum, and I always thought that they were destined for national recognition.
Random Detail: The venue where Stonefox played its final show is the same venue where the band's three core members, Asher, Rose and Barnard (Fuentes was added later) played their first show together. At that time, Asher says, "It was called Godfather's Palace, and we played on the roof."
By the Way: Look out for upcoming projects from Rosenthal and Barnard. The latter suggested that he and Rosenthal will probably continue to work together. Rosenthal is also working on a project with local songwriter Paul Simundich of Quiet River and A Hunter's Pace.
-- Courtney Hambright