Review: Select Start get the party started at Club Fuze
My hometown had a teen center. Dreadful place. Dark paint, cheap used furniture, desperate vibe. No fun. I only went once once, and even then, only for a few minutes. I had better things to do with my time, like sitting in my basement, eating entire boxes of Kix and memorizing dialogue from Clerks.
If our teen center had brought in bands like Select Start and Vega Under Fire, however, I might have been willing to give the place a second chance. These are two of Florida's best young pop-punk bands, which is saying something, because Florida has a ton of good young pop-punk bands.
I love pop-punk. Which is how I found myself at Club Fuze, a teen center off Harney Road in Tampa, for a concert by Select Start, above.
Yes. I, a 29-year-old man, spent my Friday night at a teen center, partying with a bunch of high school sophomores. I'm 98 percent positive this means I'm now on some sort of government watchlist.
Oh, but it gets worse...
The worst part is, this concert happened to coincide with something called "Savvy's Oh So Epic Sweet 16 Party." Which meant that not only was I crashing a teen center on a Friday night, I was crashing some girl named Savvy's 16th birthday party*.
Savvy, who wore a tiara and a black T-shirt that said "Oh So Savvy" in pink block letters, didn't look like one of those girls from MTV's My Super Sweet 16. She seemed like a decent, down-to-earth girl. For example: Pop-punk and party music blared through the soundsystem all night**, but at one point, she broke away from her friends and danced with her father to Garth Brooks' It's Midnight Cinderella.
And then, before Select Start got onstage, she took the mic and said: "I've been waiting all night for this ... This is my birthday wish." Then she dedicated a song to her dad, Select Start's If You Fall (Fall In Love), performed by singer Joe Guerra and guitarist Jason Polo. All cute stuff.
So anyway: Club Fuze. Located in a somewhat industrial part of Tampa northwest of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Club Fuze looks a bit like a special events hall, built in a renovated office building. There's big dance floor, elaborate lighting; games like air hockey, pool and Dance Dance Revolution Extreme; and a bar for energy drinks, fro-yo and Vitamin Water.
By far the weirdest element, though, was a booth for a casting company called Shed Media, who apparently find participants for shows like Supernanny and It's Me Or the Dog. At Club Fuze, they were on the hunt for kids to take part in an MTV show called The World's Strictest Parents. The title probably gives away the subject matter, but just before Vega Under Fire's set, a casting producer got up onstage to sell the kids on the concept:
"Who wants to be on TV?" she yelled.
"Who out there fights with their parents constantly?"
"Who wants to get a free paid vacation for one week?"
Combine this with the energy drinks and logos I saw sprinkled around Club Fuze, and for a brief moment, I felt a little sad about how Corporate America is marketing itself to today's kids. And then I recalled all the hours I've spent in bars this spring and summer, and how no matter where I was, I couldn't look in any direction without spotting a logo for Corona or Budweiser or Miller Lite. Frankly, as a consumer, I have it much worse than these kids. So they might as well get used to it.
I missed the first band, Tallahassee's Stages and Stereos, but I saw all of Naples' Vega Under Fire, a ridiculously catchy quintet that tempered their disco-tinged, Fall Out Boyish pop-punk*** with elements of pop and rock that oscillated somewhere between Fountains of Wayne and Foo Fighters. When asked to play an encore, they busted out George Michael's Careless Whisper, and if there's such a thing as a bad pop-punk**** cover, I have yet to hear it.
And then came Select Start, one of tbt*'s Ultimate Local Bands for 2009, and without question one of the best unsigned bands in Florida. They've spent most of the first half of the year on tour around the country, and on July 26 they'll be playing at the Warped Tour in St. Petersburg.
I knew that they were popular with the teenage crowd in Tampa Bay, but I didn't expect half the crowd to know every lyric to almost every song, which is what happened.
"We've been on tour for three months," Guerra said, "and there's no better place ever, ever, to end a tour than Tampa." Wild cheers.
The band turned into a set of whirling dervishes onstage, ripping through eight or so of their most popular songs and even throwing in a new song, She's Everything, which they'd only played once in Tampa. The synths that are such a big part of their studio sound were less dominant in a live setting.
Of course, they played their catchy faves A Playlist Killed the Mixtape and Oh So Epic, which -- and I'm just theorizing here -- must have been the inspiration for Savvy's party theme.
Guerra hopped onstage with Vega Under Fire for a song, and Vega Under Fire singer Brian Blount hopped onstage with Select Start for a song. And during the final song, Savvy got her Sweet 16 movie moment when the band started tossing balloons into the moshpit, and a bunch of the kids hopped up onstage to dance with the band.
It was all good, clean fun. Which is exactly what a teen center should offer. Even my sullen 16-year-old self would agree.
Next up in The 50-50 Club: Jim Morey Band, July 10 at ARTpools TRA'shion Fasion party, St. Petersburg.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
* Here's something else I kept thinking about. I've seen enough teen movies from the '80s -- A DECADE IN WHICH THESE KIDS WERE NOT EVEN ALIVE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH -- to know that whenever a popular high school girl throws a spectacular party, somewhere there's another girl from her class who's having the absolute worst night of her life. It could be a jealous friend, it could be a bitter enemy, it could be a girl who the birthday girl doesn't even know. Somewhere, that girl was dying a thousand deaths inside and wishing she was sitting at home watching One Tree Hill. I did not see this girl Friday, but still, I know she was there.
** When they played Panic at the Disco, everybody mouthed along. Myself included.
*** It is impossible to describe a young pop-punk band without comparing them in some fashion to Fall Out Boy who have become far greater influences on modern music than any hifalutin critic would probably like to admit. Just browse the hundreds of clean, bright, poppy Myspace pages out there, and sample the hundreds of pop-punk EPs by young bands on iTunes, and you'll see what I mean. Danceable beats, warbling vocals, big hooks -- it all goes back to Fall Out Boy. All you Buzzcocks fans out there can now return to stabbing your ears with a fork.
**** I'm getting sick of using the word "pop-punk" so much. Can we come up with a new name for this genre, please? I vote "ponk."