The Dancing Unfamiliar: Super Indie All Stars

Cannibal Kids Live At The Sandbox (Oliver Perez)

When you’ve been going to The Sandbox as long as I have, even the dingiest dive bar begins to lose its shine. A few years ago, any shows I attended at this black box venue were punctuated with thoughts of “aren’t I so cool” and “I know so many hidden gems… I’m soooooo underground”. Turns out that after countless shows, you start to see The Sandbox Stage for what it is: A stage that is only as good as the bands that enliven it. 

Regardless, while I’m firmly past the novelty of a hidden stage like this one, The Sandbox has something that larger, more popular venues don’t… It gives audiences a practical demonstration of what it means to be truly in the DIY scene. That is, seeing the hometown heroes in our favorite local bands dawn the role of ticket seller, merch stand guy, bouncer, production manager, crew, and finally, arguably most notably, regular people. The spirit of the DIY show becomes not just a rite of passage for the ones performing on the stage, but for the people coming to see them as well. It forces the crowd to reckon with the fact that these absurdly talented musicians are also just guys trying to get a job done. I mean, imagine just seeing Harry Styles selling his own merch and asking whoever parked the sonata to move so one of the bartenders can go home. 

What I mean to say is that it forces you to realize that the distance between who’s in the crowd and who’s on the stage is a large one, even in a venue as small as The Sandbox. So seeing the two collide and interact is weird and off putting, but also surprising. More than that, you can see how the two influence each other. And that’s what was on display at Super Indie All Stars on March 15. The bands on the lineup, made up of Still.blue, Oceanic, MADWOMAN, and Cannibal Kids, supported each other, not just in watching each other’s sets, but in sharing drum kits, watching the front of house in shifts, clearing the stage, and holding it down while others were performing. It’s this blend of all things, and having the crowd witness everything, that made this evening at The Sandbox, a surprising one, even for someone like me. It was a dance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. The unseen, tedious work of running a show was on display as much as the performers themselves. It was the air of care and support that begets the feeling of community during shows; establishing a truly unique third-space. The bands are here to perform, yes, but they’re here to give the crowd, us, a good show. Their labor is on our behalf. 

And while they carried out the dirty work with grace and obligation, they still knew how to put on a good show. And it was this dichotomy that made me enjoy every set all the more. 

First on the lineup was Still.blue, and while opening a show is always going to have the unique challenge of setting the energetic tone for the night, these guys delivered. Between the band’s (accidental?) wear-something-denim dress code and a set made up almost completely of new material, it was a gift to have experienced. Their sound was drowsy, but not in the way you might think. The songs were wistful and warm, reminiscent only of a sleepy summer afternoon in 2013. Despite never seeing this act before, I immediately felt a kind of familiarity. It’s a very romantic kind of indie sound, ideal for anyone who’s loved (and lost). As for the performances, everything about it was hypnotic, the crowd was effectively and effortlessly entranced. And for all you Still.blue diehards out there, rest assured that the band is working on a new album coming to ears near you (as per the timeline of the project, you know how these things go, the album will be ready when it’s ready).

The next players on the lineup completely shocked me for two reasons: 1) they were out-of-towners, based in North Carolina. And 2) They completely and utterly stole the show. If not for the black box surroundings, I would’ve figured I was watching a set at a music festival. Oceanic had a set that was colored with energy, revelry, and… well, color. It wasn’t hard to notice that the band brought their own sets of lights. These long vibrant bars flashed different colors synced up to the songs played, which was fantastic when establishing exactly what kind of act the band had in store. When Still.blue got us all vibing, Oceanic got us moshing. But the vibrancy was only a reflection of what we saw on the stage. Their music was incredible, of course, peak energetic indie fun, but the band wasn’t just playing for the sake of it. They were dancing; the frontman leading us with the white-girl arm flail, and the guitarists timing playful hip-sways during a chorus here and there. Although, a highlight definitely had to be during a song which was just drumming and vocals and as the singer went batshit crazy, the bassist and guitarist were left sitting, head in hands, waiting for their turn to play again. But the cherry on the Oceanic cake had to be the one leading us all. The frontman and singer, Nathan Wyatt, carried himself like a career musician and somehow had the same energy as a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t tell if he’d been doing this for 20 minutes or 20 years. To put it simply, it felt like he’d done this for lifetimes and would continue doing so. The set was just magnetic. (Editor’s note: remind me to edit out the part where I tell our local acts they have a thing or two to learn from these guys.)

Carrying on the act was MADWOMAN, who brought a smoothness and tranquility to the evening. And even though the music was slower than the acts beforehand, it brought out a sense of confidence and fearlessness in the crowd. The lead singer began each number with the title of the track as well as a brief description of what inspiration they drew from during the writing process. Only it wasn’t just that, she was almost leading a meditation in these moments, telling the audience to “… let [the divine rage] run through you. It’s not yours to keep. Let it teach you a lesson,” and that is what the entire set felt like – a meditation on music. I felt completely removed from my mind and body, and more importantly, I felt as unafraid as the lead. As she sang, she was dancing with the confidence of someone alone in their bedroom, letting the music run through them. And it was clearly felt by the rest of the audience, in the middle of the set, members of the crowd (myself included) began holding hands and dancing in a circle. Her voice and her movements were smooth and floated effortlessly. The music felt like everything she was preaching in the audio form. The set from top to bottom was inviting in every sense; it welcomed people to dance, to vibe, to join hands and create a beautiful moment together, and I’m sure that MADWOMAN savored every moment. 

Closing out the night, Miami’s very own Cannibal Kids. Now, this was not the first time I’ve seen them play, but similarly to the venue they were playing in, this moment let me inspect their set even more closely, getting to see exactly how much effort was put into its construction. One thing that stuck out to me is that somehow, beyond reason, Cannibal Kids was able to bottle Charm in a concentrated form and infused it via IV into their set. The show was endlessly fun and even more infectious. Not to mention, these guys know how to pace a set like none other: they know how to set the scene, slow it down, pick it up, and take it alllll home. While it’s more than obvious to everyone who’s seen the band that everyone on stage is incredibly talented, I feel that every person in this act has incessant amounts of personality and charisma. So much so, that it is one writer’s opinion that every single one of these band members could be frontmen at any point in time. There is an utterly unique balance of chemistry from every person playing and it completely spilled over during the set. It was evident from the moment they took the stage that everyone was on the same page. As for the highlight, I’d have to say that their guitarist, Bennett Wyler, was having the time of their life… and we couldn’t take our eyes off of them. Beyond being one of the most killer guitarists on the scene at the moment, Bennett has an eagerness to play that radiates off their body. This is a person who savors every moment on stage; between focusing on the job at hand, relishing in playing in the band, and making faces at folks in the audience, this is just a day in the life of the coolest guitarist you know. Once again, our Miami favs know how to put on a show that makes it hard to look away. 

I don’t know that The Sandbox will ever be a favorite venue of mine. Maybe I’ll just begrudgingly show up at every one of their shows until the end of time; dreading the parking situation but always coming back for more. This time, in spite of every trepidation I have, Super Indie All Stars gave me a show that I will definitely look back on. Any expectations I had were blown out of the water, not just because I knew the music was going to be fantastic (and let me reiterate, if you didn’t make it to this show you’ve sincerely missed out), but because I didn’t anticipate being so surprised at every turn. Spots like this venue are essential in DIY movements, not just because of the radical act of having accessible live music, but in bridging the gap between performer and the audience’s perception of them. Being a musician is hard work. Being a musician who has to run their own events… that’s harder. Theoretically, I always knew about the effort that goes into running a show, now I just have a better understanding of the payoff. These gigs create full-bodied communities, a space where strangers can hold hands and dance and mosh and talk. Once again, combining the known with the unknown. It is an endless cyclone of support. 

I will always consider myself lucky to be surrounded by people who care enough about this scene to both populate the stages of local venues, and hunt down whoever parked that goddamn sonata. Super Indie All Stars, does everything it sets out to do and more, and while I don’t negate how much labor goes into running a good show…

These guys made the work look effortless. 

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