Arts Garage’s Monthly ONYX Series Delivers the Goods to a Small Audience

Since taking the reins as Arts Garage’s president and CEO last year, one of Marjorie Waldo’s goals for the Delray Beach cultural hub has been to expand its core demographic—particularly among those coveted youngsters from the millennial and Gen-Z cohorts.

ONYX, a showcase of local indie music on the third Thursday of each month, has been chief among this effort. I decided to check it out last night, pleased to find that, at least in ambition, ONYX is already growing: For the first time, Waldo and company added an “Art Stroll” of local vendors in the Arts Garage gallery, just outside the black-box performing space where Miami’s The State Of and Boynton Beach’s Zoo Peculiar played energetic sets until almost midnight.

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The State Of during perform

The vendors represented an eclectic variety of styles and mediums, from cut paper to shell jewelry to 3D prints, with a heavy emphasis on outsider, lowbrow, sci-fi and punk-tinged work—art perfectly suited to an edgy indie night. But the response, from foot traffickers and paid ticket buyers alike, was, in a word, underwhelming. I’d be surprised if most vendors recouped their $15 set-up fee.

The same fate befell the musicians. When The State Of began their set at approximately 9:20, fewer than 20 people were in attendance, which included Arts Garage staff. A few more attendees turned out for The Zoo Peculiar, an hour later, but there were far more empty seats than filled ones in the cabaret-style space. The State Of’s drummer, Nabedi Osorio, was in good spirits when she joked onstage that the atmosphere felt like “a rehearsal,” but she hit on a truth; there have probably been more guests at their practice sessions.

That said, the evening provided a great opportunity to finally experience a couple of bands whose names have appeared on plenty of South Florida shows in recent years. Juxtaposing Steph Taylor’s droning, moody electronics with Osorio’s tireless speed drumming, The State Of’s performance was surprisingly consonant combination of dancehall and poetry confessional. Taylor resourcefully multitasked, playing two synthesizers and a keyboard, her feet massaging effects pedals below, all while singing—often with eyes closed, a pained expression on her face—in a clear and commanding tone that would have sounded right at home on a ‘90s bill with Liz Phair or PJ Harvey.

Both ladies made the best of the low turnout, enjoying the attendant freedom to pretty much do whatever they wanted—which included an impromptu chorus of the Macarena and a closing birthday message for Arts Garage curator and ONYX emcee Ethan Dangerwing, which featured spirited improvisation from Osorio.

Dr. Phineas of The Zoo Peculiar

Dr. Phineas of The Zoo Peculiar

Boynton trio The Zoo Peculiar followed with an experience that lived up to the band’s name. The players’ theatrical costumes captured our attention before the first note was struck: Bassist Furious Rod donned a fez and leopard-print tunic, while vocalist/keyboardist Dr. Franklin Phineas sported vibrantly dyed dreadlocks, a hot-pink feathered boa, corpselike makeup, a woodsman’s beard and polka-dot pajama bottoms—conjuring a cross between the Joker and a fabulous homeless person. Stuffed animals surrounded Dr. Phineas’ instrument, most of which would be given away to the audience throughout the show, whether we wanted them or not.

Performing a carnivalesque brand of vaudevillian psychobilly that suggested, at various times, Tom Waits, Roky Erickson and that “Freak Show” season of “American Horror Story,” the group played loping, waltzing, bombastic, ear-splitting songs about ghosts, werewolves, sex changes … and F. Scott Fitzgerald? It was occasionally abrasive stuff, not always pleasant to listen to, but musicality is almost beside the point: As an art project, The Zoo Peculiar is one of the most striking novelties in the South Florida scene.

It helped that the players were in on their own joke, with Dr. Phineas serving as a deadpan comedian between songs. “It’s wonderful to be here in Deerfield Beach!” he joked, repeating the quip two more bludgeoning times, a la Norm MacDonald. “Thanks, high school cafeteria!,” he added, after another number. Before introducing one song, he suggested we organize a mosh pit—a “gentrified mosh pit,” given the upscale Delray milieu.

The bottom line from my first ONYX experience: This event needs to pick up a lot more steam to remain viable. Good bands can make a lot of great noise, but like the proverbial tree falling in the deep forest, they need an audience to make a sound. Ditto the artist vendors in the gallery, who rely on a steady stream of new eyeballs but mostly seemed to mingle with other vendors and the same handful of ticket buyers.

With ONYX, Arts Garage has conceptualized an important recurring event at an affordable price; the onus is on us to discover and populate it. We’ll continue to do our part to publicize it here at bocamag.com.

As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.