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This Little Underground



For all the shit I give you guys about complacency, I've seen this music community rally for one of its own enough times to keep me believing. That's why I'm refreshing both your memory and your sense of largesse about Bughead's Jason Powell and the medical bills from his recent heart attack. Donate at

The beat

Typically, the choice between seeing AC/DC and ABBA would be a fairly clear one for me. But since the weekend kicked off with neither act, but instead ersatz tribute versions of them, well, that changes everything. The Australian party-rockers' seminal album, Back in Black, was being reproduced by Canadian series Classic Albums Live (Hard Rock Live) while the Swedish pop superstars were being channeled by Australian pretenders Björn Again (July 10, Plaza Theatre). I've seen the grand CAL production in action and can attest to their eerie facsimile skills, but I couldn't imagine the big-cock grandeur of AC/DC interpreted by academics being as awesome as it should be. The pure joy and camp of ABBA rendered by impersonators donning costumes and fake Swedish accents? I'm thinkin' yeah.

ABBA's pretty undeniable when it comes to pop quality, but seeing the stage performers was only half of my motivation to go. Like always, I want to see a sight, so the other half was to bear witness to cultural phenomena in the form of the fans that would show up. Jackpot, baby! Because it was a peculiar funneling of forces that don't necessarily cohabit naturally, this was probably one of the strangest shows I've been to. Take the largely older crowd drawn in by ABBA's dorky wholesomeness, the partying gay contingent and the unbridled estro-blast of the Mamma Mia! effect, throw it all in a blender and you've got one surreal milkshake. And apparently I landed on the battle line, with a rowdy lesbian dance riot in front of me and a disapproving murder of conservative crows directly behind. The drama!

But when the performers played the hits, everyone, despite the better judgment of some, went completely bananas. The greatest crystallization of the power of not just ABBA's work but music in general was the mother-daughter duo dancing gleefully in the aisle. When you're a teenage girl whose mom rocks the Thriller zombie-claw dance move in public and you don't flee the building in panicked shame, you must be in rapture.

Earlier in the week was Nashville's Jason Ricci & New Blood (July 8, Plaza Theatre). They're definitely a full-band effort, but the superlative harmonica skill of frontman Ricci is the soul of the group. After a lung-stretching 10-minute solo that almost made me pass out just from watching, it was clear that he's as inspired a harpsman as I've ever seen. Besides impressive power, his playing also has amazing grace and range, working a lithe side of the instrument that's seldom explored. What Andrew Bird does with whistling, Ricci can do with harmonica.

In an age when the blues is enjoying its most relevant reinvention yet, Ricci could be a huge figure. Tattooed, pink-haired and openly gay, he shatters the stereotype of the bluesman. The rub, however, is that the musical framework he's working in remains pretty commonplace. Ricci cites unorthodox influences, and his band covered both the Misfits and Sun Ra on their latest album, but their sound is straightforward electric blues with rock and jazz touches as well as unnecessary jam tendencies. If he can clarify and deepen his artistic vision, he'll earn the credibility to be a genuine rock star in the blues world. (Ditching those silly Hot Topic threads wouldn't hurt none either.) But there's something possibly big here.

The flip side to all the exciting new bands I've been talking about in recent months is that some old favorites will fold. As if Summerbirds in the Cellar and History weren't sad enough, the latest casualty is punk-blues murderers the Hex Tremors, one of the greatest bands Orlando has ever produced. Though their incendiary ability never wavered, even through their final performance (July 9, Will's Pub), they're disbanding because the two members are relocating to separate cities. The shittiest part is that they're one of those bands that should've easily gotten signed but, either through lack of attention or initiative, were not. If singer-guitarist Scott Long is smart, he'll keep the concept alive in some form.

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