I am so very sorry, Stan Van Gundy. I'm sorry that this league, despite being the pinnacle of the sport, is completely out of alignment, inverting the relative value of the coddled man-child players and the coaches who are, by definition, their generals. There is a pretty unanimous chorus that recognizes you as a coach in the purest sense, not a baby-sitter. And it sucks there are people in the NBA money machine who don't go to bat for that. But, from a true Magic fan, thank you, Stan, for your service, grit and uncompromising drive for excellence. They're why you're the greatest coach this team has ever had.
Speaking of legends, there's nothing quite like seeing one live, and John Prine (May 26, Plaza Live) is one of those guys for me. Despite his alternative sensibility, his fan base was devout enough to fill the grand room to capacity. Being of retirement age has had some effect on his voice, but none on his playing and presence. Prine is one of the most distinctive lyricists around and, flanked by only two other expert players, the iconoclastic folk hero delivered his sophisticatedly simple down-home poetry with extraordinary humanity, wit and humor.
Later I saw the Apparitioners (Will's Pub). I dig the hard-charging, rubber-burning, Southern-rock concept of this Jordan Wynn project, but their sometimes overly crowded sound could use more space to breathe and penetrate. In any endeavor, when everything is full-on all the time, nothing ends up making much impact – or sense.
Few have earned their bones in this town from the ground up like Lucero (May 24, the Beacham) has. But it's an awfully tall jump from selling out the Social to representing in the cavernous Beacham, and hell if Lucero hasn't graduated with flying-ass colors. Their marathon shows have always been special events to a certain segment, but they are now full-blown, scene-wide occasions. In fact, judging from all the varsity bar staff in attendance, it may only be a short time before Orlando's coolest bars will simply shut down whenever Lucero plays in town. And they deserve every goddamned ounce of it.
They've been stretching their sound into plush Southern soul territory with horns and organs for the past couple albums now, and it continued this go-round. But because they are the greatest country-rock band alive right now and well on their way to legend, a small part of me will die if Lucero goes all E Street Band for the long haul. Spreading your wings is fine, but never at the cost of the edge that defines you.
New Orleans openers the Soul Rebels were fine, as far as brass bands go. But their performance was the kind of pileup that rap shows tend toward, except with horns added to the melee. Tons of spirit and energy, but little control.
Speaking of lots of pomp with scant substance, ascendant Cincinnati band Foxy Shazam (May 25, the Social) was just ridiculous. Their glammy brand of powder-puff rock is more party or parody than real, earnest music. Next to their colossal lack of weight, the Darkness could pass for Radiohead. This was a big rock & roll extravaganza for people who don't know anything about rock & roll.
French composer Yann Tiersen (May 22, the Beacham) makes beautiful, occasionally breathtaking pop music. It's accessible – universal, even – but it's executed with astounding skill, taste and no live shortcuts. That orchestra-like integrity is what makes a Yann Tiersen show an exceptional experience.
Opener Piano Chat – whose French provenance gives his moniker a completely different, feline meaning – is a one-man show. The initial threads of his loop-and-layer quilt seemed to be slight, germinal frays of melody. But his sense of magnitude eventually transformed the proceedings into a dramatic monolith, especially when he added the crowning touch of his climactic drumming.
To break the considerable ice of an early crowd and a language barrier, he went down into the middle of the audience for his finale with just a mic and a small squeeze-box. He played a quiet song but got the crowd involved, creating a nice moment of hushed, huddled togetherness. Now that's how you commune with an audience, especially one full of strangers.