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Review: Tropical Heatwave 2011 brings Cracker, Peelander Z and loads of local talent to Ybor City

Not even a late-afternoon rain-drenching could stop the WMNF-88.5 crowd from tearing through Ybor City Saturday for Tropical Heatwave. And what a night it was.

For those unfamiliar with Heatwave, it's basically speed-dating for people who love live music. Almost 60 bands, 10 stages and crowds fueled with beer, food and, this time around, wet clothes. And while I saw many shows on this fine evening, it's not quite time-effective for me to review them all, nor is it really possible for one person to do so. Instead I will give a brief account of a few bands and hand out awards for those shows that stood out the most.

First on hand is Sons of Hippies.

This trio is becoming a more familiar face within the Tampa music scene. They had a great crowd packed at the Cuban Club Cantina, opening with Spaceship Ride and their familiar song Blood and Wine. Vocalist Katherine Kelly's mix of emotional and exploding vocals were, as usual, very real. If you get a chance to see them live, definitely do.

As with most of the shows at Heatwave, I had to leave early to catch the next act: Alias Punch at Crowbar.

This local punk trio gets the "Zero to 60" award. When I walked in, there was barely anyone around the stage. Within the first song, Crowbar was deep with people dancing and buying drinks. I'm not sure how everyone snuck in so quickly. This surfer style punk band was all energy, and drummer Dusty Mondy was a snare-roll king.

I was annoyed that Geri X and Sleepy Vikings were scheduled at the same time. I wanted to catch both of these shows, and jolted to Orpheum to catch Sleepy Vikings.

They were a last-minute add-on to the Heatwave lineup, and I heard all sorts of good news about their live show. I got hit with a brick wall of people as I entered Orpheum. The show had already started and the stage was full, with six members in this band. The vocals by singer Tessa McKenna were smooth as glass. The way this band sounds live was so unique and made me want more. Just think melted fusion rock. And with this many artists in a band, I was impressed that they sounded so clean. Their new album They Will Find You Here was released on May 10 and is in stores now.

Next: a quick run down Eighth Avenue to Play for Geri X.

I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the front of the stage. This place was so packed I was tempted to go elsewhere. I knew Geri X is a good show and I wanted to hear a few of her tunes. I squeezed inside and nuzzled my way to the front. Despite a bad cord connection with her guitar, she performed well. She is so into her music; while singing she drifts off, closing her eyes and lives her lyrics. She seems to blush for her audience, thanking them every time they applaud.

And now for the best act of the night. A must-see for anyone. If you don't like their music, you will love their stage show. Personally, I love both. It's a costume party, an adventure, and a comedy show... it's Peelander Z!

This punk, pop, superhero foursome was out of this world. Orpheum was jam-packed, and they still managed to move people from center stage to perform the limbo with fans. They passed out metal bowls and wooden spoons and allowed the audience to play along. It was truly the best show I've seen all year. After watching this show, I want to read a comic book! Check this video out to get a better inside look.

It killed me to leave Peelander Z, but as all of these Tropical Heatwave shows blend together, I had to bolt a couple songs before Cracker was to take the stage.

I'm not sure what the reason was for Cracker to perform at Heatwave. I mean, they had a good crowd of 40-somethings that loved their show, but it was just so "basic," and I felt there was much better talent on other stages throughout the Heatwave event. With their three-chord songs and modest commercial radio sound, the most shocking part of their show was vocalist David Lowery's guitar strap, which was multiple upside-down peace symbols. They opened with their hit Low and of course that got everyone's attention. After that, I did my best not to drift off. It took a total of seven songs for Lowery to acknowledge the crowd, finally stating he felt like home in Tampa. There was no personality on stage at all. Guitarist Johnny Hickman was dudded up, and if I were a fashion critic, I'd say they would pass with flying colors. Unfortunately for them, I am a music critic and photographer. If they handed out free bacon cheeseburgers during their show, maybe it would have been manageable.

I was happy to walk over to New World Brewery for the next act: The Spears.

Maybe I'm jaded, but I love my punk bands. This was the second one of the day. The Spears, from St. Pete, played late, and as the evening went on, many shows were off schedule throughout Heatwave. This one took the cake, though, starting 25 minutes after the scheduled start. Luckily, it was worth the wait. The modest and reserved crowd (not typical for a punk audience) was into the show. Hyped-up singer Chris Barrows worked the audience and started slamming into the standing crowd. It was a cool set, but they seemed a bit rushed to get things done. I'm guessing it's because they were behind schedule and everyone was playing catch-up.

Lastly, Marksmen was on my list, though I didn't get back to the Orpheum in time to catch their show from the beginning. Marksman has a good following, and I was pretty surprised to see the dense crowd. Their show was full of energy as usual. I think guitarist Chris Brickman was having a hard time playing on a smaller stage. He is so use to running around, it was like he was on a leash, trying to manage the Orpheum stage. And vocalist Matt Segallos admitted to a rookie mistake by having to ask the crowd to wait patiently while his guitar capo was retrieved from a gig bag mid-set. The music paused for about three minutes and the set continued. Good show overall, and I see these guys making musical waves in the future.

As the clock approached 1 a.m., I decided it had been a long, exhausting day. Honorable mentions go to Flat Earth Society and The Hip Abduction. Many other talented artists performed at Tropical Heatwave; it just isn't possible to catch them all. I had a great time. The weather was eventually perfect and was only a factor for the first hour. WMNF 88.5 did a great job putting on this event. Too bad it's only once a year.

- Review/photos by Andrew Carlton, tbt*