Last Thursday (June 16) was my first night out since the Pulse massacre. I hadn't even attended any of the public vigils. Although I was incredibly lifted by all the rallying images I was seeing online, I just wasn't ready. I needed the womb of my own space and family to grieve and process.
But the beat eventually goes on, as it should, as it must. So I dove deep into the very marrow of the music scene: the DIY community. Appropriately, it was a night of fellowship and catharsis. Hugs were deeper and more generous. The vibe and sheer physical energy was, in those close quarters, unavoidable. And it forced me out of myself. Yeah, just what the doctor ordered.
Chew were headlining. Though they're a Chicago punk band, three-quarters of them are homegrown from notable Orlando bands like Great Deceivers and Hau Zarest. With cred like that, their reception was a buzz-hot sardine-can situation. After seeing Chew's feral power live, their full-bore hardcore would've likely lit it up even without the built-in support. But to prime the performance, bassist Russell Harrison made an introduction that proudly asserted their local roots and impelled us to heal by being exactly who we are: people who love and make art. On that note, under all that accumulated emotional tinder, the packed house combusted as soon as the band struck. The entire room erupted into a pit, one with a little more exuberance and force than perhaps in other, more normal times.
West Palm Beach's Problem Child have been on my radar hard and were the one band I hated missing most at the recent Period Bomb show (Uncle Lou's). I wasn't going to miss them again this time. Now, after seeing them live, I can say that neither should you next time they're back in town. They rip crazed hardcore punk with a savage noise-rock undertow that's in a constant dive of frenzy. Live, that careening sensation is embodied in a total animal of a frontman who throws himself around with little regard for limb, thrashing on the edge and willing to drag any takers over it with him.
Coming not simply to our town but to our aid was the Pity Sex, PWR BTTM and Petal bill (June 16, Backbooth), all out-of-town bands that donated their show proceeds to the official Pulse Tragedy Community Fund (gofundme.com/29bubytq). Considering that most touring musicians are chronically broke, it's a gracious gesture. And considering the crowded house, it was also a helpful one. So serious Orlando respect for that.
Giving the most apropos performance was New York's PWR BTTM, as in "power bottom," a name as empowered as it is gay. Even though I relished the powerful coincidence, I wasn't planning on making too big of a deal about an especially unambiguous queercore band arriving last week of all weeks. But then I saw the signs on the bathroom doors stating that both were gender-neutral per artist request. And then I watched a queer two-piece rock band who are as out as it gets command the club.
Guitarist Ben Hopkins came out full queen with rainbow wings, dress and glitter face. Then he and drummer Liv Bruce kicked out catchy garage-rock songs that frequently went total Guitar Hero. PWR BTTM may be sweet, playful and honest, but they also rock hard with major shredding glory. And, as the bathroom signs attest, their shows are designated safe spaces. So, yes, perfect.
I'm also going to mention that I drove past the memorial site on the Dr. Phillips Center plaza on my way to the show. It was well-populated with people who looked like their Friday night plans were right there on that lawn – in communion with the souls there and departed – rather than inside for a performance or a block north in the city's most concentrated nightlife sector. And people were still there when I passed on my way home. What's more, my entire downtown drive was flourished practically nonstop with rainbow colors, from the flags flying everywhere to the full-building lighting of the Aloft hotel. This is my Orlando.