-by Jay Cridlin
-appeared on Tampabay.com (June 30, 2009)
(This is the 25th entry in Soundcheck’s summer concert series, The 50-50 Club.)
One thing about Michael Jackson’s death: It reminded us all of just how great his music was.
Nothing trenchant about that observation, of course. The same sentiment has been expressed approximately 124,803 times by drive-time FM deejays in the past 24 hours alone. I’m not exactly breaking any new ground here.
But here’s my point: I seriously cannot remember the last time I actually heard the song Thriller in a non-YouTube, non-commercial, non-movie context. A Halloween party, maybe? Who knows.
So when DJ Leah Q. spun Thriller, Billie Jean and Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough Monday night at the Ybor City Social Club you better believe people moved to the dance floor. It was refreshing to hear those songs as just dance songs, not mere relics of the early, campy days of MTV.
That mini-Michael tribute is the sort of reason the club’s new Antisocial @ The Social open-mic Mondays, hosted by Jeremy Gloff, above, have become some Ybor City’s freshest new weeknight party. Laid-back and unpredictable, free-flowing and, yes, social, Antisocial is a happening scene, yet it’s still new enough to be considered below the radar.
Now, I normally don’t make a habit of hanging out alone in gay bars on a weeknight. But for Antisocial, I was willing to make an exception.
Besides, who cares if the Social is a gay bar*? For me, a bigger concern was the fact that this was a freaking OPEN-MIC NIGHT. God only knows who or what is likely to show up when you turn on an open mic. You might walk in thinking you’ll get early John Mayer, but instead you get Phoebe Buffay. Or, even worse, you end up with Ross Gellar**.
Gloff and Peter Botti hosted a popular open-mic night at Sacred Grounds in Tampa from 2004 to 2006. When the club that is now the Social changed hands earlier this year — it used to be the Mission, Flirt and, most recently, Limelight — the owners asked the gregarious Gloff and bartender Botti if they wanted to revive it. Along with Leah Q. (nee Connolly), they said yes.
The bar is a gorgeous space, with high ceilings, plenty of cozy lounge nooks and an all-around arty, historic feel. Touches of Gloff and Botti’s humor are present. In a nod to their trusty old Grace Jones Phone Booth***, a “Grace Jones Coffee Maker” sat on the bar. Cups sold for a dollar a pop.
Since starting out in May, Antisocial has drawn about 50 to 170 people to the club on Mondays, for music ranging from pop to acoustic to metal to cabaret. Gloff said he loves the unpredictability of it. One night, Tampa icon Peter Pan performed and ended up covering Slayer.
This actually happened.
This week’s Antisocial was a little on the slow side, possibly — and I’m only hypothesizing here — it fell smack-dab between last weekend’s massive St. Pete Pride celebration and this coming weekend’s GaYbor Days. People gotta recharge sometime, I guess.
“It’s so laid back, if a few people come out, I’m happy,” Gloff said. “I don’t think bigger is always better.”
As was the case with Wide aWoke Wednesdays, it would probably be a stretch to call this a concert. Gloff played four songs, and another band, an acoustic duo known as the Summertime Redemption, maybe five. They reminded me of one of those late-’90s alt-pop bands like Jolene or Athanaeum or possibly Tonic. They’re regulars at Antisocial — and they’re straight.
“This is kind of a launching pad for us,” said singer Robby Villar.
They definitely knew how to play to the crowd, though. After one song, someone yelled for them to take off their shirts. So they did. Then, later, someone yelled for them to take off their pants. So Villar did, briefly****. It all stayed very PG-13.
Gloff’s fans know the dude loves him some Hypercolor pop straight outta 1987, but his tidy acoustic folk set was passionate and powerful, with a voice that calls to mind Cat Stevens. Watch out for the song “Square One” off his forthcoming album, 21st Century Love Songs.
Tampa artist Guillermo Perez, another Monday-night regular, also performed (in a manner of speaking), painting on and around the stage while Gloff sang and strummed.
But as I said, this ended up being somewhat less than 100 percent of a concert. Most of the patrons were talking to one another, not listening to the music. Such is the nature of open mic nights — they’re unpredicable, and they’re background.
But the crowd’s embrace of the Michael Jackson tribute***** made up for it. When Thriller ended, Leah Q. slid into MGMT’s Electric Feel — another killer dance track, for sure.
It’s no Thriller — but hey, what is?
* I go to a lot of bars for my job, and never do I seem to get hit on by strange women. Why would going to a gay bar mean I’d suddenly be bombarded by come-ons from strange men? Makes no sense.
** Where my Friends fans at? Central Perk’s Gunther in the hizzouse! Holla!
*** Long story.
**** Or should I say, boxer-briefly, harf harf harf. No? I shouldn’t say that? Okay then.
***** The Social also had a DVD of The Wiz playing on the TVs.