As a part of this year's selection committee for the Florida Music Festival, I recently perused hundreds of submissions from hopeful artists. Amid all the night soil that's to be expected from any cattle call, I happened upon something special. Now, everyone knows about Orlando's platinum lineage of pop stars. It's a source of pride … blink, blink … really. But I'm on to the next great white hope. Her name? Hala Kitty. I've experienced the glory but all the words in my well-guarded dictionary wouldn't be able to capture it. Just go to www.myspace.com/halakitty yourself, listen to "Little Piece of Me" and succumb. From production values to sheer vocal display, this is just pure awesomeness. Though I voted for her, consider this my formal plea to the festival's organizers to put her in. Guys, I'm thinkin' entertainment gold.
Picture it: me at a themed "Black and White Party" at the Social among wakeboard dude-bros and bleach bunnies. A natural fit, no? Anyway, I was there to catch The Colour, who — despite the affectedly British spelling — are actually from L.A. While the inattentive crowd concerned itself mainly with Red Bull cocktails and gab, a righteous display of '70s denim rock stitched liberally with boogie and blues went down onstage. Though spiked with plenty of octane, the performance was equally steeped in sonorous atmosphere, like Diamond Nights would sound if they traded disposability for soul.
Down the street at Club Firestone that night was roseate chamber folk act Loney, Dear from Sweden. Unfortu-nately, it was an utter disappointment live, with lots of the spindly, intricate details of their music lost somewhere in the execution. A pity considering how lovely the Sub Pop debut Loney, Noir is.
However, headliner Of Montreal brought in the cavalry. Though the giddy Athens act has been a fixture on the indie circuit for the past decade, most are incidentally familiar with their oddball music through the transmogrification that is Outback Steakhouse's latest jingle. And, boy, those steak dollars went far, because the band had a sizable theater production in tow with costumes, makeup, large-scale props, characters, a projection screen and an actual person to mix the videos. I know, wow. The marvelously grandiose show was radiant with flamboyance and camp, with frontman Kevin Barnes fluttering somewhere between Jarvis Cocker and the Scissor Sisters. But all this would mean little if the music were bankrupt.
In truth, the elaborate visual display only mirrored the lush, prismatic sound on their latest album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. Just when I thought I no longer gave a shit about this band, along comes one of the most concentrated and cogent albums ever to spill forth from Barnes. With it, and this performance, his art-school psych-pop has finally arrived.
The sweet stuff continued the next night back at the Social with two more quality sets. Though not much to look at in the way of performance, Australian trio Love of Diagrams pumped their frayed post-punk with raw, stripped-down power. Straight-lined and stiff-spined, their almost Teutonic drive throbbed with a primal persistence not unlike early Siouxsie & the Banshees.
In 180-degree contrast to their monochrome pulse, however, headliner Ted Leo & the Pharmacists flared with emotional Technicolor. I tell ya, this guy never disappoints live because he lays it on the line every single time. And this show continued that steadfast tradition of quality with another rousing display of agile melody and chest-bursting passion. Like an American Joe Strummer, his amalgam of punk, folk and soul rings with a smart, Everyman character, one that was lit with Celtic fire live. Didn't exactly hurt that he was touring behind one of his finest albums to date, Living With the Living. Though Leo's one of the champions of the independent scene, he doesn't subscribe to the fashion of it all, and it's what makes him stand out so starkly. It even carried over into his approachability, evidenced by the winning, back-and-forth rapport he had with the audience. Truth over trend, that's Ted Leo.
The blues is a taste I only acquired in recent years. That's largely because the stripe that most of us are exposed to — and are led to believe represents the genre wholesale — is the rocked-up but watered-down white-guy stuff. Precious few are ever turned on to the really haunted, truly stirring stuff. So I can hardly be blamed for expecting the open Blues Jam at Baldwin's Pub to be an amateur hour of the antiseptic stuff. Turns out, they do play boilerplate blues there, but it's done with aptitude and, most of all, a sense of intimacy and fun. The revolving cast of players was accomplished-sounding, certainly stories above what you'd expect in a neighborhood bar. I've seen worse on much bigger stages.