This being my first time at the Orpheum, we must have walked by the entrance twice before we finally found the door. It should have been obvious given the numerous patrons sporting pashminas and flat bills covered with enamel pins outside. This wasn’t the rave-y Ritz crowd that gathered for Slushii on the other side of Seventh Avenue — this was your deep woods festival folk, the type of people you would expect to see gathered around an Incendia stage at any festival.
When we walked in, the venue was dimly lit with only a handful of stage lights illuminating MZG, two identical twin DJs with curly hair, glasses, and a funky electronic sound. Originally from Chicago but now based in Florida, this duo has been playing festivals all over the region including Okeechobee, Suwannee Hulaween, Purple Hatter’s Ball, and Aura Music Festival. While the audience grooved to the disco/R&B fusion, an oblong net of balloons loomed overhead, an ominous sign of the new year to come.
When Russ Liquid took the stage, the entire aura of the venue changed. The band kicked things off early with a sinister mix of some sort of otherworldly bass (possibly a double kick or prerecorded bass) and trumpet. Attendees were literally freaking out, I had one guy near me grab my shoulders and scream “Holy Shit” at the bridge of my nose. Band frontman Russell “Russ” Scott melted the Orpheum with a masterful combination of saxophone, synthesizer, and trumpet. The band's drummer, Deven Trusclair, remains one of the most talented and intricate drummers I’ve seen to date. A fog machine was placed directly behind his kit and fog bounced off the drums and cymbals with each hit.
Each of them perfectionists, the band members were constantly pointing at the sound board to make adjustments to the levels on each of their instruments. They played a number of brand new songs, as well as a good deal from their new album, World Gone Crazy. The entire room danced to the gospel/funk/jazz/electronic/rock fusions. At some point I felt something hairy on my arm, and as I stepped back in shock, I realized it was a woman folding over backwards like the exorcist. She shook with arms extended at a horrifying angle but somehow stayed on her feet and found her way back upright to dance some more.
Manic Focus began minutes before midnight, and paused for the ten second countdown to acknowledge the new year. As people screamed “Happy New Year,” balloons rained from the rafters and couples kissed all around.
Before Manic Focus began its set, only one board of lights lit up most of the venue. About a song or two into Manic Focus’s set, four high-tech and synchronized laser machines began cutting light through the foggy club. The band's frontman and DJ, John “JmaC” McCarten, brought his drummer Jacob Barinholtz to Tampa to showcase a highly unique and experimental sound.
For a few songs in its set, Manic Focus brought out Russ on trumpet and Russ Liquid Test guitarist, Andrew Block for additional accompaniment. A woman somewhere in her 40s and an avid CL supporter, came up to me and insisted I refer to the combination as “Manic Liquid,” though I insisted that “Liquid Focus” worked better phonetically. We kicked around the idea of “Russ Focus,” but that just makes it sound like Russ is easily distractible. To my knowledge, Russ of Russ Liquid Test does not have an attention problem.
When asked for comment on the collaboration title and general feedback on the show itself via text, Russ from Russ Liquid responded "Aye!" No further comment.