The season of joy is upon us, but last Saturday belonged to hate. The Hate Bombs, that is, who treated not one but two area venues to open-air rave-ups that placed a higher priority on goodwill toward men than peace on Earth.
The Bombs' presence was a shot in the arm to the "Bohemia" block party, which drew disappointingly few preholiday pleasure-seekers to Winter Park's New England Avenue for an afternoon of music, food and shopping, designed to benefit the WXXL-FM (106.7) Baby DJ Fund (a "Toys for Tots"-type charity). Despite the welcome return of the Orlando sun after last week's cold patch, there never seemed to be more than 30 people at a time standing in front of the makeshift stage that had been erected to house the 10 scheduled bands.
For the first few hours, I felt I knew why. SoFluid's loose jazz-funk came off as offhand and unpolished, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a glorified rehearsal. It was more tempting to keep my eyes on the young students from On Stage Studio, who were filling the avenue with demonstrations of the Capoeira school of martial arts. (This trend of violence at concerts simply has to stop.)
The instrumental unit Hot Lunch acquitted itself honorably, delving into its brown-bag of tricks to come up with some pleasantly experimental runs. Still, this wasn't the sort of entertainment that gets an audience dancing in the streets. And the music wasn't even audible on Park Avenue, leaving yuletide shoppers unaware that a free break in the day's stressful Beanie-hoarding lay only three blocks away. I was left hoping that an unscheduled set by someone like Pain Principle (or, failing that, the loud collision of a dump truck with the West End Grill's front porch) would attract a few pairs of new ears.
"It could be on Park Avenue, and they still wouldn't hear it," lamented one of the event sponsors.
Hitting the target
That all changed when The Hate Bombs arrived shortly before sunset, decked out in jet-black spywear and busily clambering across the roof of their truck like Peter Lupus in an episode of "Mission: Impossible." I noted with amusement that the rockin' rebels had brought their kids along for the ride. "What does my daddy do? Oh, he's a Hate Bomb." Maybe one day, they'll go to private school with the Butthole Surfers' kids.
As night fell, the sight of the terminally cool Bombs taking the stage was only rivaled by the hilarious unveiling of the specially constructed light show -- three narrow strips of lamps and a small wad of Christmas bulbs that rose behind the drum kit like a Charlie Brown tree ascending into heaven. "I thought it was going to rain, so I didn't do much," the technical director sheepishly confessed.
We were barely finished laughing when the Bombs exploded into a set of high-voltage beatnik twang, accompanied by perpetually twitching stage moves that were just rehearsed enough to be exciting, but sufficiently sloppy to remain out of the realm of Vegas cheese. In seconds, the crowd had tripled, pouring on to the grass to dance up a storm. They may have been doing the frug; I haven't seen enough "Gidget" movies to be totally sure.
Allegedly a niche act (think the Yardbirds after an excursion into Little Richard's speed stash), The Hate Bombs' appeal instead effortlessly leapt across demographic boundaries. The delighted faces and happy feet belonged to young and old, black and white alike. A 20-something sister standing next to me was especially impressed: "That drummer boy got it goin' on!" she remarked. While musicians a decade their junior desperately affect b-boy poses, the Bombs proved on Saturday that the best way to be multicultural is to put on a good show.
After that, "Bohemia" was effectively over. Blue Meridian made a short run through its professional but somewhat lackluster pop, but most of the audience was gone by the time the befuddled Cold Cut Trio (formerly Big Jeff Special) began to embarrass itself, announcing its presence by confusedly lauding the day's efforts to "feed your homeless people" (feed them what, an Easy-Bake Oven?) and even mistakenly introducing itself as "The Cold Cut Combo." That's not a band, that's a sandwich at Subway.
As the Trio struggled through its identity crisis, a musician who knew who and where he was -- the Hindu Cowboys' Joseph Martens -- cooled his spurs in the street, all dressed up with no place to go after the 8 p.m. curfew had put the kibosh on his band's appearance. Taking his Stetson-wearing, cowboy-shirted frame over to the West End Grill, he sought the O.K. to put on an impromptu makeup show on the restaurant's patio.
I never found out if he got the green light. Instead, I ran all the red lights on my way downtown, to see if The Hate Bombs would be as impressive in their evening gig at Barbarella. Sure enough, they pulled off another frenetic coup, slightly less energetic than their afternoon bonanza but still more laced with piss and vinegar than they had a right to be after they had given their all at "Bohemia." Combating an abominable soundboard mix, they nonetheless won their audience over with a repertoire that included the new "Wrong Place at the Wrong Time," a head-shaker to be heard on the band's next CD. Other winners included the heroic "Action Figure," which I'm genetically coded to like on the basis of its title alone.
The hero of the day was drummer Ken Chiodini, who in addition to his regular duties climbed on stage with Nutrajet to supply lead vocals on a skin-scalding cover of the Stooges' "Loose," with Kingsnake Studios habitue Al Hughley guesting on harmonica. Hands down, it was one of the finest performances I'd seen all year. It also raised my expectations for an upcoming side project Chiodini's cooked up with Nutrajet's Greg Reinel: a tribute band to the nearly forgotten Flamin' Groovies. If they fail, it won't be because of competition.
For now, I'm content to have finally experienced The Hate Bombs firsthand. For some reason, I had always missed their previous shows due to factors beyond my control. But by the time Sunday morning came around, I was a genuine fan. I want the CD. I want the T-shirt.
And I really, really want the action figures.