It's got to be a sign of something very good in the water here when the independent DIY spirit infiltrates all the way into the often more traditional corridors of jazz and classical music. Luckily for us, the city has long had the regular live performances at the Timucua White House, the even longer underground tradition of the Civic Minded 5 shows, and the offerings of more recent trailblazing presenters like the Accidental Music Festival. Well, the newest entrant to bolster that front is the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts.
It's in a semi-industrial, off-Fairbanks section of Winter Park but it's anything but a makeshift black box. In fact, what the owners have done with this facility is a bit of a marvel because spaces don't get any more inherently hostile to fine music than a warehouse. However, they've managed to convert this one into a purpose-built, full-time venue and recording studio with surprisingly warm and clear acoustics.
The result of their loving work threads the needle nicely between informal and professional. The space is roomy and relaxed, but appointed with all the features that make a real show – like wide stage, good sound and stage lights. It's similar to Ivanhoe indie performance space the Venue but, as the brainchild of musicians, is more truly sound-oriented. Fans of the Timucua White House in particular should really check out Blue Bamboo because it's kindred in both pedigree (specializing in jazz and classical music but with minds open to other forms, like folk) and community soul. Like Timucua, it's a place for art by artists, with all operations – sound, door, bar – handled by the owners.
That said, Blue Bamboo is definitely doing its own thing. And that thing can easily get bigger. With almost 6,000 square feet to play with, they have the space. What's already been developed has been done with pride and thought. And what remains open for future possibility is surrounded by extraordinary ambition, according to some of the great ideas that co-owner Chris Cortez shared with me (e.g. art gallery, education, etc.).
Since its summer opening, Blue Bamboo has established a regular rhythm of several shows a week encompassing both national touring names (like Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lenore Raphael, Lucy Woodward) and area talent. Is this critical mass for the jazz and classical set? We'll see. At the very significant least, though, this event space is another big piece of an exciting new picture for the live music landscape here. In Orlando, it seems alternative venues aren't just for the kids any more. Take that, punks.
Philadelphia indie-pop band Mercury Girls (Oct. 19, the Social), who made their Orlando debut this night, have scant output so far. But their latest promising 7-inch is on excellent taste-making indie label Slumberland Records. And as far as first impressions go – on record but especially live – they know how to make you fall hard and fast. They neither take it slow nor play hard to get. They just max out the charm and dive headlong in a spiraling freefall of sparkling melodies and noise-pop texture. It's a gust of swoon and soar that comes in one breathless speed and in perpetual updraft. When something this enchanting comes on with such velocity and such singleness of mind, all you can do is submit.
After the fizz and shine of Mercury Girls, the polished, progressive neo-emo of St. Louis' Foxing was a little bit of a wet bed. What's undeniable about them, though, is that they work with craft, clarity and drama. Because feelings are serious, guys. An actual violin was involved. Really.
But even all that held no candle to the gushing bombast of Pennsylvania headliners Balance and Composure, who pump modern emo with Muse-sized ambition. With sleek sonics, high theater and flashy lighting rig, this is emotional rock that's built for arenas. Whatever your appetite for melodrama is, these guys at least have sturdy songs that translate grandly and a full grasp on the mileage of showmanship.