The best of Tropical Heatwave 2010: Alejandro Escovedo, Jason Ricci, BoomBox and more
You can't review Tropical Heatwave. Can't be done. Not with 46 bands on eight stages across Ybor City. You pick and you choose the acts you think you'd like to spend a little time with, and concede to turning your back on the rest.
We saw bits and pieces of about half the artists on this year's bill, and still felt like we were on the move the whole time. So rather than attempt a total overview, we're taking a page from Bill Simmons and handing out a few awards. Here's the best of what we managed to see in and around the Cuban Club...
BEST VOICE: PETER BALDWIN
At Crowbar, Orlando singer-guitarist Baldwin doled out indie pop songs in a silky, sexy fasetto, including a soulful solo version of MGMT's Electric Feel that needs to be on your next makeout mixtape. With a voice like Maxwell with a hint of Roy Orbison, you wonder what kind of damage Baldwin could do on American Idol. But let's all hope he never tries out.
BADDEST ASS: JASON RICCI
Performing with his band, New Blood, blues harmonica whiz Jason Ricci looked like some unholy combination of Keef, Iggy, Johnny Rotten and Billy Idol, huffing and growling through verses but unleashing all kinds of hell during his instrumental solos. He drank, he puffed cigs, he stripped off his wifebeater to reveal a lean, tatted-up torso -- basically, he looked like the opposite of a guy you'd want to cross in a dark alley. Did we mention he's gay? Talk about an all-time stereotype-smasher.
SARAH BORGES MEMORIAL FOXIEST FRONTWOMAN AWARD: RUBY VELLE
In honor of Heatwave '09's ass-kickingest lady, we salute Velle, above, who strutted and kicked and purred and wailed as her whip-smart seven-piece band, the Soulphonics, laid down a perfect blues-funk soundtrack behind her. "Every time we come here," Velle told the Tampa fans, "it's nothing but smiling faces and dancing booties." Indeed. Come back soon!
(Keep reading for more awards and photos of Tropical Heatwave 2010...)
BEST PAIRING: ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO AND ERNIE LOCKE
Bug-eyed, booty-waggin' bluesman Ernie Locke stuck around after his band, Tampa's Nervous Turkey, played the first set of the day on the mainstage. Good thing he did. Heatwave headliner Alejandro Escovedo invited Locke up onstage to play harmonica, and dang if Locke didn't sound every bit like he belonged there. They swapped rip-roaring riffs on Everybody Loves Me, then did the Rolling Stones' Beast of Burden during the encore. A proud moment, no doubt, for one of Tampa's top artists.
BEST ACCOMPANIMENT: THE DANCER FOR HUDOST
By themselves, the Baltic rockers of HuDost were pretty great, like Arcade Fire covering U2's Zooropa. But then they added this dragonfly lady to the mix, and she, like so many others at Heatwave, let her freak flag fly in the Cuban Club Cantina, dancing and twirling with flags and capes and hoops and more. The band was good enough that they didn't need a full-time dancer, yet they brought one anyway. Now that's dedication to your audience.
BEST GUITARWORK: LAURIS VIDAL AND ANDY ZIPF
Florida's Vidal and Virginia's Zipf strapped on two acoustic guitars and put on a clinic at Orpheum, plucking, strumming, finger-tapping and sliding through a bluesy, poppy set that was part Ben Harper, part Jack Johnson and all conducted with bee-sting precision.
As soon as the acclaimed Americana band from Bradenton took the stage at Orpheum, fans were cheering, people were swaying and couples were dancing -- which was amazing, because the club was absolutely jam-packed, front to back. Chalk up even more new fans for the ever-rising HGWT.
MOST WELCOME ADDITION: DYNASTY
Yes! Actual hip-hop! Bryan "BC" Clardy also performed, but a lot of love went out to Tampa's up-and-coming Femcee at New World Brewery. Hip-hop is a rarity at Tropical Heatwave, but Dy showed it belonged, living and breathing her rhymes in a too-short set before a packed floor. (She's got a CD release June 5 at New World Brewery, for anyone who wants to see more.) That said, we hate to say it, but...
BEST RAP: LUMINESCENT ORCHESTRII
We'll be honest: we did not expect a professorial-looking Romanian Gypsy punk quartet to produce the most groovealicious rhyme of the evening. But then we heard Nasty Tasty, a sultry little ditty containing the infectious refrain, "Who puts the pudding in the punim?" And we began to think Luminescent Orchestrii might have a future at Cash Money Records.
BEST USE OF THE POOL TABLE AT CROWBAR: GREYMARKET
In addition to his standard stage and drum dives during a typically wicked set, GreyMarket singer-guitarist L. Cave McCoy leaped from the Crowbar stage onto the pool table, several feet away, to wail on his guitar during Hey Mr. Spaceman. Let's hope his rocksmanship didn't lead to any irregularities in the felt.
LOUDEST: THE ETTES
Okay, fine, we missed Unkempt, the first metal band to play Tropical Heatwave, at Crowbar. But we did see The Ettes, a Yeah Yeah Yeahs-like garage punk outfit whose music ricocheted off the Cuban Club Cantina walls at an ear-splitting volume. At least a few folks (us included) had to craft makeshift earplugs from wads of paper. Still rocked, though. The area in front of the stage got dangerously close to a moshpit.
BEST INSTRUMENT: THE KAZOO
Two of our favorite artists of the day were the ever-quirky Rachel Goodrich (above) of Miami and Two Man Gentlemen Band from New York. Coincidentally, both utilized America's favorite instrument (ages 4-7), the kazoo. Goodrich's whimsical set was full of childlike whistles, trombones and bright colors and costumes; if we could sum it all up in one photo, it would be this one. Two Man Gentlemen Band, on the other hand, was a little more grown-up, with their Vaudevillian chucklers about minivans and mathematics and reefer and William Howard Taft, but no less enjoyable. Was the kazoo secretly the reason? Science may never know.
BEST IN SHOW: BOOMBOX
Leading up to Heatwave, we couldn't wrap our minds around Alabama's BoomBox, above, a duo described as "jamband electronica." After seeing them live, we totally get it. It's two guys with one guitar and a boatload of synths, laptops and other electronic equipment, plus smoke and lights. The result is a nonstop blend of chilled-out disco, trance, funk and breaks that would sound right at home on a fashion runway or hip Vegas club. The Cuban Club Bandshell was a dancefloor within minutes. If we ever host our own A-list Super Bowl party (don't rule it out), we're hiring these guys to provide the beats. They were the coolest act we saw at Heatwave, which is something we would never have expected going in. But then, it's Heatwave -- would you expect anything less?
Like we said up front, we didn't see every band at Tropical Heatwave 2010. Who else deserved an award? Leave your own awards in the comments!
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*