Late last week, Orlando lost a champion, a supernova, a true original. Be you acquaintance or follower, the universal connection this city has to Billy Manes speaks to how singularly out and brilliantly he lived. To me, he was a friend, colleague and fellow Pet Shop Boys enthusiast. You, Billy, were truly never being boring. And now, Orlando's light is a lot dimmer.
STRAND OF OAKS AND JASON ANDERSON, THE SOCIAL, JULY 19
Dead Oceans act Strand of Oaks really impressed as opener for labelmate Tallest Man on Earth at the Beacham back in 2013 as just a duo. Now, the Philadelphia-based locomotive led by Tim Showalter is back as a full band with much bigger rock ambition.
Few approach folk-rock with a sense as expansive and mountainous as Strand of Oaks. Even though Showalter's take is unquestionably indie, it's also remarkably encompassing. In fact, his band went notably psychedelic here, with some expanded acid-rock passages that rolled out in epic, long-form songs like rural America's answer to the Verve.
But their specialty is anthems, and those soared as high live as they do on record. At their best, Showalter and company take rugged country-rock spirit, thrust it with altitude and render it in brilliant Technicolor. If the War on Drugs snapped out of their soft-rock daydream, rediscovered the exhilarating gust of their early days and maybe strapped on a jetpack, you might have something approximating the panorama of Strand of Oaks.
Even with all the sonic sweeps and deep dives, though, Showalter made it a personable encounter, bringing down the scale mid-set to get intimate and honor some requests. Between this and the performance of opener-collaborator Jason Anderson, this was one of those shows where the performers handled the venue like a living room, treating the assembled to a close engagement.
Anderson's own music is the sound of a big American heart that's born of conviction, open landscapes and rock & roll. Without any backup, he pours himself into the mic with powerful humanity. Making it especially personal, he dedicated a cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" to Pulse victims and survivors. Played solo, the song's empowering nerve took on an effectively – and appropriately – solemn tone. Respect.
BAKER-BARGANIER DUO, GUAVA TREE GALLERY, JULY 21
It's no secret that house shows happen in Orlando's indie and punk scenes. What's more arcane, however, is that it's also happening in the art-music scene.
Guava Tree Gallery is one such example. Despite the formal name, it's actually a private home in a SoDo neighborhood near 903 Mills Market. But every third Friday, it transforms into an ad hoc art space and opens to the community for a free monthly gathering. It seems the Timucua White House no longer has a monopoly on arty house shows.
The latest was a combined affair. In a blacked-out front room, a stark and evocative film by UCF film professor Christopher Harris was screening on loop. In the living room, the music feature was the Baker-Barganier Duo, an experimental classical twosome from St. Pete. Elizabeth Baker – whom I first encountered at the In-Between Series in an actual full-time gallery – is a modern pioneer of the toy piano. In fellow experimentalist Erich Barganier, she has a multi-instrumental partner that expands the palette considerably while maintaining the same spirit of adventure.
Between the two of them was a menagerie of curious instruments, a miniature orchestra of toy pianos, theremin, saw, drums and electronics. Even more familiar instruments like the bass and mandolin were played unconventionally with bows and slides. Their work – much of it debuts of esoteric interpretations of slave songs – were studies in tension, accord and modernity.
But it's the phenomenon of the event itself that says something of particular note about the city's cultural fabric. Between the cross-media events that the Timucua White House, the In-Between Series and, now, the Guava Tree Gallery are doing, it's great to see a fuller embrace and integration of music by Orlando's art scene. And only great things can happen when it ups its DIY game like this. If you don't think anything special is happening here, you're not digging deep enough.