with Forest Orange and Minus Ten

House of Blues, Orlando • 12.10.97

Suffice it to say, the O-Town local music scene is blowing up.

There, I’ve said it. I’ll say it again, to savor the reality. Blowing. Up.

Forget about those wistful glances towards more prominent music towns like Seattle and Atlanta kids, we’ve got our scene. Thankfully, the House of Blues is aware of this fact, and actively supports these up-and-coming bands through showcases. Tonight’s free show would be a strange triple threat spanning a vast chasm of musical styles. Pop went the top on the Budweiser. Forest Orange hit the stage at 8:30 p.m. sharp.

Through the smoky blue haze onstage pierced the flickering glare from several television sets. A low bass throb began to pulse and a crazy, choking flanged guitar hissed out into the air. Looking a little like one of the Jawas from Star Wars, lead singer Chad Sanford stood on the drum riser, clad in a brown hooded robe. With the voodoo toms of drummer David Wade kicking in, a hypnotic wall of sound erupted into the song “Body High.” Sanford’s guttural howls had a James Hetfieldian feel to them (Hetfieldian — let’s enter that one in the New Rock Dictionary) as he whirled about on-stage during the writhing mosh of “Denomination.” Bassist Rick Scheid somehow managed to deliver forth a great fury of pops, slaps and double-picking killer lines while leaping and climbing all over the speakers.

The crowd was still trickling in, and only three burly headbangers graced the front of the stage, which caused Sanford to issue forth a call to arms. “The party’s here in the front. Who’s got the weed? Bring it down here!” What followed was the ultimately amusing country song “Roll A Fatty,” which benefited largely from the fact that these hair-flinging mosh-heads took it completely seriously. By song’s end, there was a big stupid grin on my mug — and I wasn’t even stoned. Hell, I was still nursing Bud numero uno.

The band shifted into a slower mode with “Pot Radio,” and featured a wicked onslaught of dual axe menacing from guitarists Shane Sanford and Chris Carr. The starts and stops on “Funk You” found the band tight and loose at the same time. A great showing. Never found out what the TV sets were for though. For audience members with ADD?

Minus Ten showed up and kicked off their set with the expansive-sounding “Remain You.” Lead singer Jesse Black caressed really slurpy rhythms out of his acoustic guitar, punctuated with searing leads from guitarist Chris Marsh. Black seemed to be reaching for some of the vocal high notes, but was on the mark with some emotional wails on “Hotel Room.” Keeping a steady pounding time track and some kick-ass double bass beats, Dennis Walters lent a grace and remarkable charm to the three-quarter waltz of “Puzzle.” This lilting piece stood in stark contrast to the balls-out songs that preceded it, featuring the most beautiful guitar playing of the evening from Black, and a vaguely Celtic melody.

Everything was just swingy in the bass department with Dave Perkins laying down confidently phat lines on tunes like “45 Guns” and “Messiah.” Minus Ten proved that they could rock it, and then coo it into a trance. You gotta love extremes.

Little did I know, it was about to get really extreme.

11:30 p.m., the patchwork curtains parted to reveal Heronymus. Crouched at center-stage, wearing a black desperado hat and trail coat, lead singer Tim Williams slowly rose as the band kicked in with a soft crescendo. Raising a huge silver gun, he turned to reveal a bizarre cyborg mask as guitarist Rob Houle and bassist Josh Chiet stepped up the jam. Eyes blazing, Williams stalked forward like a creature possessed — scanning the crowd with something resembling distrust. Drummer Augustin Frederic kept a double-time rhythm on cymbals and rims as the western motif churned on. With a last glance at the crowd, Williams slowly walked to the drum riser, removed the mask and then stepped back to the mic and began a quick patter; “rich man’s running from the dog that’s coming/ nipping at his heels in the new age dawning.” Eyes wide and arms flaying, another verse was followed by a whooping shriek that jump-started the band with a bright horn riff provided by trombonist Jaimey Gonzalez and sax player Dan Boissey. “Cowboy Song” then proceeded to trek through Motown country before suddenly freaking out in a groovy-nasty throwdown of bass-heavy funk. Chiet’s bass playing is sort of like a multiple personality thing, fluidly rippling lines here, slappy-twangy chops there and huge mooing fret slides kicking changes in the ass. Houle snapped pictures of the crowd when he wasn’t maintaining a furious assault of chord breaks and industrial-strength solos.

The crowd blinked as a collective. Each new time switch and style change seemed to catch them unaware, creating a whooping chorus of disbelief. Feeding off of the energy, Williams alternately strutted, growled, spazzed out and quick-stepped around the stage. Cocky as a, well — rock star — his rich baritone wrapped around each lyric and squeezed the shit out of it. This man sings fast. All the better to keep up with the fired-up groove of “Enough Already,” a neo-punk ditty with a infectious staccato horn phrase. Here, a jam ensued — Houle trading licks with Chiet, Boissey stepping forward to stun the crowd with a rambling, bluesy sax solo.

Alluding to the oft-made attempts to categorize the band’s sound, Chiet was reflective. “We’ve been called a funk band, a ska band, a punk band. But we’re at the House of Blues — so tonight, we’re a goddamn blues band, we’re on a mission from God.”

The deceptive jazzy swing of “Icarus” soon gave way to a sudden groove that proceeded to explode into a wild speed-metal frenzy. Jeez. You blink with these guys, and you might miss something. The somber tones of “Soldier” featured a sort of standoff between Williams and Chiet, who repeatedly kicked the lead singer during the middle portion of the song. Accented by well-placed drum hits from Frederic, Williams finally leapt upon the attacking bass player and pummeled him down to the stage — Chiet never missed a beat.

Of course it was all played for drama, and there were plenty of theatrics on the part of the charismatic Williams who at one point, scaled a tower of speakers at stage left and sung contemptuously to the audience, leering down at them like a gargoyle. The Latin tango beat of “Spider’s Lullaby” provided a sexy framework for the band, which featured Gonzalez’s spooky conch shell musings and a soaring horror-movie melody. Some songs would appear to end, only to crank back up again. A rise in volume here, a double take there. Williams conducted the band with his body at times. There was plenty of Wah. Quite a weird stew, but the closing number, “Silver Dollar,” has potential as a mainstream hit with its Dave-Matthews-On-Crack stylings and a hugely catchy ending sing-along refrain; “leave, just leave/ you’re not mine, you’re free from me/ so go, I know I’ll find something new when you leave” The still very-full dance hall freed Bics from pockets and gave the band their sign of approval. Having announced the short hiatus of the group earlier in the show, Williams promised that they’d be back and the group left the stage. Indeed, the last page in the first chapter of a very long book, one would hope.

The evening was a stellar showing for bands that have yet to receive their national due. May the House Of Blues continue to throw them a bone and let the people rock on.

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