Now that everyone's recovered from Best of Orlando, it's back to business. This week, an entire Orlando scene reawakens for one night.
SQUAD FIVE-0 REUNION, GASOLINE HEART AND MIKE DUNN, WILL'S PUB, AUG. 18
There was a time in the 2000s when, amid a swelling new-millennium indie tide, there was a strong little scene in Orlando that staked a vibrant claim to the classic altar of rock & roll. It was a cadre built on big hooks and big heart, with unmistakably American sounds that were all blue jeans and red blood. And this recent bill was a postcard from that heyday.
Producing some of the most life-affirming songs to ever come out of Orlando, Gasoline Heart and Mike Dunn were cornerstones of that local trad-rock scene of the mid-to-late 2000s. Although Savannah's Squad Five-0 weren't from here, they came here to play plenty during that time to wildly enthusiastic receptions, ultimately forging familial connections with our local scene, particularly with the aforementioned. S5-0 co-founder John Fortson would later join Gasoline Heart and become a permanent local himself. So the ties are deep.
But, as it does, time marches on and either scatters or dissolves everything. S5-0 went dark and Gasoline Heart frontman Louis DeFabrizio relocated to New York, leaving Dunn the only one on this bill to remain an Orlando presence. Once in a while, though, forces reconvene and mount a brief revival in the name of history. And this show was just that.
Squad Five-0, like all of us, are older now. However, their live vigor and grip on the audience have apparently eluded age. Before the show, I was reminiscing about seeing them in their prime, with bodies flying everywhere and singer Jeff Fortson Jesus-walking atop the crowd. But nearly 15 years after their final album came out, all that occurred again right here. They can still incite a pit, make chests burst and light up a room. Squad Five-0's still got the juice. And this show was testimony to a band that left a mark whose embers can still ignite at will.
Of that mid-2000s Orlando trad-rock scene, no band was more foundational than Gasoline Heart. Waving the banner here with the most passion and shine, they were the flagship. Behind all their punk-inspired muscle beat a heart of rock & roll, pure and classic.
Once DeFabrizio left town, he took the name with him and still occasionally performs with different players. Now, however, back in the place it all began alongside some OG members, the band's famous gusto felt like it never left. It was a set with as much feeling as octane.
A direct and bright product of the Gasoline Heart orbit, Mike Dunn would go on to cement a distinguished place for himself in the Orlando music canon, perhaps the last of his kind around here until some young guns again rediscover the virtue of good heartland rock. But something recent has developed in his voice. While S5-0 stood out for their astonishing lack of rust, Dunn now wears every mile of the years since his first emergence, and he wears them heavily. In his case, that's an unexpected blessing.
Hard luck and heartbreak often make good art. And, clearly, whatever toll life has exacted on Dunn's spirit has given his expression some newfound patina and depth. Even if it's more shaded, his trademark soul has now taken on more richness and character. It seems the freshest face of the Kings of New England is wearing age well.
Never let it be said that Orlando has no sense of history. With these bands back together, Will's radiated sweet local nostalgia. It wasn't just the reunion of a band, it was the reunion of a scene. It was a night of anthems and contagious camaraderie. When you're standing in the middle of a full house singing along with hearts on fire to songs that sprang from this soil, you know you're basking in the glow of some glory days. Top to bottom, this night was a brilliant beam from a golden age in Orlando.