Glasses up, everyone, the one-of-a-kind cultural jewel that is the Timucua White House is back in beautiful business! After the city permitting red-tape scare in April that threatened to put the kibosh on its operation, the White House has officially resumed doing what it does like literally no other: giving Orlando artistic terroir. And I can't imagine a more emphatic riposte and statement of the place's civic worth than a show of deep fine-arts caliber, credentials and connection as the recent one featuring accomplished pianist Myra Melford (May 30).
The event was an outreach concert by the pacesetting Atlantic Center for the Arts, where Melford is currently a master artist doing a May residency. And according to Civic Minded 5 host Matt Gorney, it was her first Orlando show in nearly 30 years.
Of the two parts of Melford's performance, her unaccompanied segment was the most contained, complete and stunning. Performing mostly pieces inspired directly by the paintings of artist and friend Don Reich, Melford stretched the bounds of jazz and contemporary classical. Her experimentation, though, isn't the kind that confronts with heavy-handed and purely conceptual atonality or other jarringly non-musical tactics. She defies conventionalism as much as any self-respecting avant-gardist, but her language has clear virtuosity with impressive structure and remarkable intelligibility. In other words, you don't need to be a hard-core free-jazz freak to get down with what she's doing.
Melford weaves together familiar drifts of classic jazz with truly arty adventure in ways that feel more organic than hybrid. Her music's spirit flits with improvisational heart from nervy to whimsical, challenging to playful. Her brilliant technical agnosticism goes anywhere from fleet-fingered scholarship to surprisingly wild artistry, featuring full-hand and -arm playing that included knuckle rolls, palm strokes, hand chops, fist mashes and elbow leans. But even with all those feral flourishes, and even in climaxes of mania, discipline always defines Melford's execution. And that discipline commanded standing ovations.
For anyone who cut their teeth in the Orlando alternative underground like me, the Genitorturers always stood as an extreme cult legend, one of those bands whose shocking early shows we always heard tales about from older, cooler friends. Well, they just hit their 30th anniversary. To celebrate, they returned to the city that birthed them and held a bash that was probably one of the biggest and certainly the most sex-drenched shows that local promoter Modern Music Movement has put on (June 2, the Abbey).
The Genitorturers are an industrial metal band but music is just one aspect of what they do, an arguably secondary one at that. Really, they're much more of a freak-show performance group. Shock is an ever-moving threshold, and norms have changed exponentially since they first sparked outrage. But even now, they still do a respectable job of delivering grand sleaze with old-school subterranean showmanship. Unlike the basic Halloween fashion show that their younger, paler shadows put on, the Genitorturers' BDSM carnival still goes big and far with nudity, stilt-walkers, sword-swallowing and lots and lots of dildos. It's a machine of spectacle that's like GWAR imagined by a woman. Almost no one does it like this any more. What's more, it's pretty original and certifiably homegrown.
Just as historic, however, was the appearance by NYC underground icon Lydia Lunch, who came this time with Retrovirus, a full-band iteration spanning Lunch's many musical groups. And it was a big enough occasion to pull a visibly discrete crowd all its own.
Between the Genitorturers' elaborate fetish orgy and the scene-goth fluff of opening duo Abbey Death, there was a particular frequency to the night's proceedings. But Lunch and her band weren't on it. Practically radioactive with No Wave creed and cred, they threw off pure punker-than-punk heat. They sounded good. They sounded real. They sounded essential. Their performance and presence were so vital that there was, in that moment, little indicator of the age of the band members or the material. This is the OG stuff. This is art as primal instinct. And unlike what their name suggests, their music is far more timeless than retro.