Review: Sons of Hippies, Dear Old Liar dive into the Hub
You can't tell a drinker that the Hub is not one of Tampa Bay's best bars. It certainly has to be in anyone's top two or three dives.
But that was already the case before the Hub began staging occasional free live concerts earlier this year. Originally called Full Moon Shows, they were exactly what they sounded like: concerts that took place on the night of a full moon.
But then the Hub started picking up concerts on other nights -- by popular artists like Nervous Turkey, the Dukes of Hillsborough and Poetry 'N Lotion -- and before you know it, the great dive became a pretty rockin' local music club. On Thursday, with the streets of downtown Tampa licked silvery by rainfall, it was Sons of Hippies, above, and Dear Old Liar's turn to rock the makeshift stage.
But considering it was a haven for local musicians and roughnecks before the live music started -- and considering its vaunted jukebox* is one of the most beloved elements of any bar in town -- the question we now must ask is: Does live music actually make the Hub better? Or worse?
When Maxim published a guide to Tampa in advance of this year's Super Bowl, one bar that they made sure to include was the Hub (even if 90 percent of the people who appear in Maxim's pages probably wouldn't be caught dead inside it). Its coolness, its sense of belonging, is effortless.
Also, it's pure scenester bait. Not to go all Robert Evans on you, but ... Were there Pabst Blue Ribbon signs in every direction? Oh, yes. Does the jukebox contain Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain? You know it, baby. Did I see a guy in a Modest Mouse T-shirt roaming the bar? You bet your ass I did. (On the other hand ... was I wearing a Death Cab For Cutie T-shirt**? You bet your ass I was.)
The stage setup is simple, but awesome. I know I once said Dave's Aqua Lounge has the coolest backdrop of any stage in town, but the Hub's absolutely takes the cake. Behind the band is a glass wall dividing the bar from its adjacent package store, so the band is playing in front of backlit rows of bottles of gin, rum and whisky. God help the drunken performer who might someday decide to take a header past the drum kit and into the glass wall ... but man, a more rock 'n' roll maneuver, I cannot possibly imagine.
First up was Cosmic Baklava, a solo guitarist for whom I will once again trot out the cliched comparison of Explosions in the Sky (but only because his moody, slow-burning, feedbacky soundscapes were just a little darker than Sigur Ros). It was just him and an iPod/drum machine, and it was nice.
Then Cosmic Baklava was joined by a bassist and a drummer to form Florida Night Heat, another atmospheric band whose wordless jams had more of a Latin/Spaghetti-Western/surf-rock/stonery feel. They closed with a song called Take On Heat, which was a drugged-out cover of A-Ha's Take On Me (mixed with what sounded like Iron Butterfly's Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida). Trippy.
And speaking of trippy, up next were Sons of Hippies, Sarasota's answer to this decade's tradition of male-female alt-rock duos (the White Stripes, the Ting Tings, She & Him, Matt & Kim, Mates of State). Having released their debut album, Warriors of the Light, in July, Katherine Kelly and Jonas Canales recently added a bassist, Michael Kreick, to help flesh out their live sound.
Live, they're like an amalgam of everyone from Radiohead to Metric to Ours to Broken Social Scene to Veruca Salt to Guided By Voices to the Psychedelic Furs to, yes, just a little of the White Stripes. It's spacey but it rocks, .
At one point, Kelly asked the audience to scream as loud as they could during a certain part in the song. The band was recording the song for a single they plan to release, and Kelly later told me she plans to mix the live version with a studio version to create one song, not unlike how the Beatles used two very different recordings to create Strawberry Fields Forever. I screamed loudly, so maybe I'll be on the single. That would be fun.
They printed 100 copies of Warriors of the Light, and I bought one. No. 96. It was well worth my $8.
Then came Dear Old Liar, a mostly female St. Pete foursome I'd most compare to PJ Harvey, or the Cowboy Junkies, or Portishead, or Fiona Apple, with slow-burning '60s-'70s guitars instead of piano. They played a cover of Metric's Glass Ceiling, which Kelly loved, calling it "ambitious."
Vocalist Micheal Hooker was marvelously breathy, and guitarist Leanne Dunn just shredded. Smoky, bluesy, noirish, Twin Peaks-y -- they were a perfect choice for the Hub. They even played a song called The Hub.
I have to admit, I missed parts of their set, because I was so caught up in conversation with Sons of Hippies. These things happen at the Hub. You see friends, you meet friends, you learn something new about the Beatles -- it's everything you could want from a night in the rain-slicked city.
And to think: I wouldn't have been there Thursday night had it not been for the live music.
So in that sense, I do think live music benefits the Hub. Sure, you might miss lining up 3-for-$1 spins on the killer juke, and you won't be able to watch baseball or NASCAR on the tube. But you will get to watch some of Tampa Bay's best bands in an honest-to-goodness venue that knows from legit.
The last words I heard as I walked out of the Hub at about 1:30 a.m. were a guy yelling: "Everything's special at the Hub!"
I don't know who he was talking to. But damn if he wasn't dead on.
Next up in The 50-50 Club: Stolen Idols, Aug. 7, the Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
* Here's a sampling of the artists currently playing on the Hub's jukebox: Pavement, Whiskeytown, My Bloody Valentine, Louis Armstrong, the Decemberists, Dr. Hook, Earth Wind and Fire, Flat Stanley, Calexico, the Stooges, Son House, Lead Belly, Black Crows, Lucero, Steve Earle, the Del McCoury Band, Uncle Tupelo, Al Green, Led Zeppelin, Billy Idol, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Beastie Boys, David Allan Coe, the Go! Team, Billie Holliday, the Grateful Dead, Pink Lincolns, Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, Old 97s, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Wilco, the Clash, Jawberaker, James Taylor, James Brown, Barry White, the Police, George Strait, Patsy Cline, the Jackson 5, George Jones, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Bloc Party, Dinosaur Jr., Joe Jackson, TV on the Radio, N.W.A., Mississippi John Hurt, R.E.M., the Band, Elvis Presley, Radiohead, Thelonious Monk, Hank Williams, the Kinks, Guided by Voices, the Pogues, Louis Prima, Jethro Tull, the Shins, Merle Haggard, the Rolling Stones, the Jam, Beck, Ray Charles, Sun Kil Moon, Miles Davis, Yo La Tengo, the Replacements, Nina Simone, Hall and Oates, Stevie Wonder, Ricky Skaggs and Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. Admit it: If every single item from every Tampa Bay bar suddenly went up for sale, this jukebox would probably be the first thing you'd buy.
** After the show, I went over to say goodbye to Sons of Hippies. As I was shaking Jonas's hand, Katherine pointed at my torso and said, "Is that a Death Cab for Cutie T-shirt?" It was, I said. Both of them immediately beamed, and Jonas turned our handshake into a bear hug. Ben Gibbard just has that effect on people, I suppose.