Coming at you live from Tropical Heatwave!
A few final thoughts as my first Tropical Heatwave winds to a close.
I didn't get to see every act I wanted. So what? No one does. No one can. You might be able to catch a song or two by every act, but you'd be running around like crazy trying to do so. You just watch what you can, and if you like an artist more than you thought you would, you stay longer.
WMNF sure gets the most out of the Cuban Club as its venue, with two stages inside, two more outside and two more within a couple of blocks in the Orpheum and New World Brewery. I did hear a lot of squeaking and artists commenting on the levels, but I guess that's to be expected when you're staging 30 bands in one night. It's not like they could all come in for a sound check at 10 a.m.
Here are three acts that wowed me, three local and three national, in no particular order:
Stolen Idols: Surfing at the point where kitsch and cool meet.
Roppongi's Ace: Southern-fried indie-rockalicicious.
GreyMarket: This was one of the last bands I saw, at New World Brewery, and ... I mean ... wow. They're two alternative rockers from Tampa, a guitarist and a drummer (and a laptop), who played with a fire and technical precision I could not believe. Musically, I don't even know who to compare them to. Mute Math? The Killers? Muse? Freakin' Radiohead? They were so good, the crowd demanded an encore. I have no idea how these guys are not signed to a label and touring the country.
Sarah Borges: Into the crowd ... into our hearts. Awwww.
Blair Carmen and the Belleview Boys: So what if they played a bunch of covers? They were awesome covers. And they looked as cool as they sounded.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. 'Nuff said.
The party's far from over at Heatwave -- in fact, Johnny Cakes and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypso are doing a second show at New World later -- but I'm beat. Tropical Heatwave is not for the faint of heart, or of back, or of shoes.
Thanks for reading along. Hope to see you at Heatwave next year.
11:30 p.m.: So the Vodkanauts were nice, and Chuck Prophet played a clean set, and Pack A.D. were intriguing -- like the White Stripes with Amanda Overmyer singing.
But now is the time on the blog when we talk about Trombone Shorty.
You may have heard Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews was a must-see headliner. You were not lied to. The man might be one of the next great charismatic frontmen in music. With his band Orleans Avenue, he just tore Heatwave a new one with a bombastic 90-minute set of jazz, funk and R&B.
He sang like a prophet of soul. He made his trombone sound like a saxophone. He made his trumpet sound like R2D2. I played trombone once upon a time, and the only thing I ever made it sound like was a water buffalo in heat. But Trombone Shorty made the 'bone sound like the coolest instrument on the planet.
During When The Saints Go Marching In, he sang like Louie Armstrong, led the band on a "second line" walk through the crowd*** and -- why not? -- threw in a little Violent Femmes, for good measure. He had the crowd pogoinng like they were at a Lil' Wayne concert. And on the finale, a salsified Minnie the Moocher, he held a sustained trill on his trumpet for a couple of minutes, just because he could.
So yeah. I was impressed. Trombone Shorty. Write it down.
10 p.m.: No orgy yet, but there is definitely some heat in the air!!!! By which I mean there is a holy-mother-of-god lightning storm going on in the sky above our heads. This can only end in mass death and destruction. I am sure of it.
Been a good couple of hours. At New World Brewery, I caught two slices of cold $3 pizza (lame!) and a smashing set of Southern-rock foot stompers from Tampa's own Roppongi's Ace (awesome!), featuring a spectacularly moustached Alex Spoto (hirsute!). Lots of good vibes at New World.
The rain has died down to a trickle, which may have been why blues guitarist Michael Burks felt the urge to pull a Sarah Borges and hop offstage for a bitchin' extended guitar solo. Fans dug it.
All zydeco music sounds more or less the same to me, so I skipped BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet and hopped upstairs to the Ballroom, where I caught one of the pleasant surprises of the night: Blair Carman and the Belleview Boys, who played a dead-on set of rockabilly classics (Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Hank Williams) and a few very nice originals to a packed crowd. The best thing about these guys was that they were dressed like characters from some '50s-themed amusement park pompadours and ducktails, matching suits and string neckties. My compadre Leigh Armstrong called Carman the second coming of Jerry Lee Lewis.
At the moment I'm crouched in the back of the Orpheum, listening to a somewhat straightforward set of predictable indie rock from the Modern Skirts -- although they did open with a crazy, mind-blowing piece of Animal Collective-ish percussion and loops and whoops and insanity. (Actually, they "opened" with one of the most interminable mic checks I've ever heard, but that's neither here nor there.)
Now come the tough choices. Within the next hour, the following artists are all playing at the same time: Chuck Prophet, Trombone Shorty, David Dondero, Will Quinlan and the Diviners, the Vodkanauts and Pack A.D. All of these artists, I would like to see.
Oh me, oh my!!! Decisions, decisions!!!! LOL!!!1!
If this lightning doesn't quit, we will all be dead before sunrise.
8:08 p.m.: Here's an awesome thing that just happened.
Sarah Borges (above) was wrapping up her set in the Bandshell. It was drizzling, but her audience had slowly built back up during the course of her rip-roaring blues-rock set. And in the middle of her final song, she decided the audience wasn't quite as into it as she felt they ought to be.
So Borges hopped offstage (sans mic), ran through the crowd, grabbed a vinyl chair and climbed on. She implored the audience to join her in a rain-soaked, unplugged call-and-response.
"Turn your lights down low!" Borges called.
"TURN YOUR LIGHTS DOWN LOW!"
"Open up your back door!"
"OPEN UP YOUR BACK DOOR!"
She pulled a fan's fuzzy purple hat off his head and did it all again.
"Turn your lights down low!"
"TURN YOUR LIGHTS DOWN LOW!"
"Open up your back door!"
"OPEN UP YOUR BACK DOOR!
Then she ran back onstage and finished her set. Great stuff. This is the kind of moment that you hear about whenever people reminisce fondly of Heatwave.
7:30 p.m.: And here comes the rain...
It's pouring at Tropical Heatwave. Or, it was pouring. Now it's just an uncomfortable drizzle. This bodes well for the indoor performers, like Thomas Wynn and the Believers, a rootsy, bluesy, soulful Orlando group performing now in the Cuban Club Cantina. I can't say I'm especially wowed, but a captive audience is as good an audience as any. I'm sure they'll sell a few extra CDs today.
But the rain is bad news for Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles, whose set at the Bandshell is, well, a bit of a washout. A few hardcore revelers are sticking it out, dancing in the rain, but most of them are huddled shoulder to shoulder underneath the overhangs or indoors with Wynn. Borges sounded great, and she sure looked foxy, but I'm a wuss, so I scampered inside with the rest of the cave-dwellers.
When the rains first came, I was at the Orpheum, where I discovered my first favorite band of Heatwave: Stolen Idols. These five local cats play "exotica," a Pacific-islandish type of jazz with trippy hints of old Hollywood and super-spy espionage. They sounded like the sort of group that would have a Friday-night residency at the coolest underground jazz club in Honolulu.
A woman near me saw me taking notes and tugged on my shirt.
"These guys are not rocking the house," she said dismissively, as she mimed scribbling notes in an imaginary notebook. "High school teachers."
If you say so, lady. But I can definitely think of worse ways to spend a rainout.
Maybe all this rain will bring the Heatwave crowd closer together. Getting caught in the rain is a bonding experience, after all. Think about it -- how many times in movies have you seen a star-crossed couple sprinting through a rainstorm in search of cover, and when they find it, they lock eyes and passionately make out? All the time, right?
What I'm saying is: I think we're all minutes from an orgy.
6:18 p.m.: I'm up at the pinnacle of Tropical Heatwave, the Cuban Club Ballroom, watching high-energy St. Pete ska eight-piece Johnny Cakes and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypso. I'm going to go ahead and call it: This is the best band name of Heatwave, hands down. Thanks for playing, Trombone Shorty and the Visitations.
This also might be the youngest, and most eclectic, crowd so far. Down in El Pasaje Plaza, Big Sam's Funky Nation is rocking the house, but the crowd is slightly older. I've got to give it up for singer-trombonist Big Sam, who is an absolute picture of funkitude, but ... I mean ... some of the dancing in front of the stage ... my god. Words cannot describe the directions in which some of these people's legs are moving. (It didn't help that the moshpit had one of the highest FSPM -- Flowered Shirts Per Moshpit -- ratios I've ever seen in my life. One dude had a lobster-print guayabera and earrings made from guitar picks from the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.**)
The Mojo Gurus grabbed hold of the crowd in the Cuban Club Cantina early and didn't let go. Singer Kevin Steele looked like a stoned version of Jim Morrison, which is to say, he looked like Jim Morrison. Or maybe Jason Lee from Almost Famous. The program describes them as "glam and twang," and I can confirm that, yes, they were indeed that. Well done, gents.
Out on Ninth Avenue, there's a great array of food tents. Jerk chicken, BBQ from Skipper's Smokehouse, Ethiopian from Queen of Sheba. Absolutely delicious; I'm sure I'll be back for seconds.
The marketplace leans a bit too much toward the tropical-tie-dyed for my tastes -- it's outdoors, and the smell of incense is still almost choking -- but there was one great deal out there. The USF student radio kids at WBUL have a table full of promo CDs they're just giving away. Not a lot of winners in the bunch, but I did see discs by Korn, Lostprophets, Slim Thug, Plies and Dimmu Borgir -- which, as you can imagine, are all going over like gangbusters here with the Heatwave crowd.
Off to the dance floor! Hup, hup!
4:58 p.m.: Good afternoon! Soundcheck is officially on the scene at WMNF's 28th annual Tropical Heatwave concert, with yours truly on liveblog duty and Leigh Armstrong on photo-daguerreotypography.
I've lived in Tampa Bay for seven years, and this is my first Tropical Heatwave. I know, right? In fact, I'm a little ashamed to admit that this is only the second concert I've ever seen at the Cuban Club. I am NOT ashamed to admit that the first was .38 Special, and that they absolutely killed it.
Who am I looking forward to seeing today? I've heard good things about Trombone Shorty (9:40 at El Pasaje Plaza). I dig the Modern Skirts (9:10 at the Orpheum), too. And I really should check out Chuck Prophet (10:05 p.m. at the Cuban Club Bandshell), because it's just not a WMNF party without Chuck Prophet. I also wouldn't mind checking out some good locals, like Roppongi's Ace (8 p.m. at New World Brewery), GreyMarket 11 p.m. at New World) and Magadog (11:55 at the Cuban Club Bandshell).
But hey -- the afternoon is young. I'm open to suggestions and recommendations. Leigh and I will be on the scene all night, looking for action.
A few questions: Will I turn into a 50-year-old hippie by the time this day is done? Will I somehow end up playing harmonica in a zydeco band? Will I get henna tattoos on the backs of my hands? If so, will they clash with my "Spring Break '99" double-dolphin tramp stamp?*
If you're coming to Tropical Heatwave, but haven't left the house yet, you can get a map and schedule of performers here. The weather is balmy, and slightly overcast, but I'm optimistic. And hey, get this -- free parking in the Centro Ybor garage, courtesy of ... Ikea. I bet all the hippies just LOVE that.
Now, where to start? The Mojo Gurus are up first at the Cuban Club Cantina. That seems like a good way to kick things off ...
-- Jay Cridlin
* I've said too much.
** Yes, I'm jealous. What of it?
*** What is it with everyone going into the crowd today?