Best Of 2002

While Cleveland's nightlife slept for nearly a year, Grid/Orbit co-owner and DJ impresario Jerry Szoka was moving his glitzy gay bar from the Warehouse District to a majestic spot across from the Gold Horse Saloon on St. Clair. In May, Szoka opened the new space, plugging his sound system into a second-floor, state-of-the-art perch in Grid's back-to-the-future dance partner, Orbit. Szoka then reacquainted Cleveland's gay glitterati with his expansive library of pulsating house and electronic music. If Szoka's spinning the tunes, the party's only just begun.
The hottest band on the area music scene is a brilliant young Akron duo whose 100-proof, shotgun-shack blues are as scorching as the Mississippi sun under which their sound originated. The British press is already beginning to salivate over them, and major labels are knocking at their door. And their recently released disc, The Big Come Up, is one of the best debuts from these parts in ages.

We've mastered the art of rationalizing a trip to the bar. It goes something like this: "The sun's up, let's celebrate with a beer." But we scarcely need an excuse to hit the tavern when Hayshaker Jones is playing town. Broken hearts are the only impetus for downing shots that's better than this band's raucous, hard-charging outlaw country. Hayshaker Jones, often found on the Beachland's stage, can pull off the aching ballad as well as the ballsy barnburner, and it's all delivered with the sting of their whiskey muse.
Whether it's a sparsely attended New Pornographers gig or a sold-out Hives show, the Beachland's boxy, spacious room is the town's best place to see a concert. And it's not just because the Beachland's booking the best bands these days. There really isn't a bad spot in the whole house (there aren't any obtrusive poles or barriers, or twists and turns that obscure views), and the sound is almost always just right (and only occasionally muddy). Beware -- at packed shows, it gets stiflingly hot, and parking can sometimes be a pain in the ass. Any inconvenience is worth it, though, because the Beachland rarely caves in to industry hype, featuring garage rock, alt-country, and hip-hop with top-notch style.
Even the most ardent West Sixth Street partyers have been venturing over to Ohio City lately, to check up on Touch Supper Club. The regularly changing installation art that decorates the walls provides a chic urban atmosphere, and an incredibly diverse array of sounds keep the intimate downstairs dance floor filled with a hip crowd. There's a reggae/hip-hop meltdown on Tuesday nights, a rock and roll explosion on Thursdays, and a soul-saturated salsa party on Fridays -- but never an uptight dress code. It's no wonder that everybody feels comfortable at Touch, regardless of creed, color, or choice of apparel. The clincher: Touch dedicates two Saturdays a month to booking international techno, house, and rare-groove DJ talent, and that's when the party really gets started.
As the eponymous transsexual, Dan Folino gave a multifaceted performance, singing with the raucousness of a rock star, camping with the bravado of Carol Channing's Dolly, and conveying with utter honesty the martyr, the drag queen, and the innocent boy beneath all those layers. This was one of those career-making performances one reads about in theater books.
Almost single-handedly, Touch Supper Club has established Cleveland's place on the map of ultramodern turntable culture. The last Saturday of each month brings Shift, which vibrates to techno-house beats. The genre's biggest stars -- Akufen, John Selway, John Tejada among them -- have all spun records for dancers in the Touch basement. Many of the same crowd return on the next weekend -- the first of each month -- for Nitty Gritty. This is a groovier, down-tempo style that blends funk, jazz, and soul. In just its first year, Nitty Gritty has built spectacular momentum -- luring Bay Area DJs Andrew Jervis and J. Boogie, Columbus's RJD2, and, in their biggest coup so far, German superstars Jazzanova.
No DJ is more attuned to his audience's ears than Mick Boogie. When he plays for mainstream crowds at Wish, in the Warehouse District, Mick lays down beats that dancers know from the radio or MTV -- and the crowd loves him for it. But just as effortlessly, he ditches pop hip-hop for the more obscure, independent-label rap. Either way, his mixes are seamless, his scratching is top-notch, and crowds are always left panting on the dance floor.
It's the Mardi Gras of Cleveland, without the hangover. Where else can you see your favorite politician dressed as a giant tomato or fairy godmother? Stilt-dancers from Tremont and puppeteers from Central America have made the parade an especially colorful affair, with their jungle-gym floats and supersized stick men that hail from fanciful, faraway rain forests. It's held in early June, when it's not too hot and sticky, and tons of kids get to participate, making their own African drums and dragonfly wings.
Tall, lean, and very, very mean, Andria Michaels is Cleveland's DJ diva. She struts a stage four nights a week (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at Pump, and Thursday at Metropolis), but she reserves her rawest, bawdiest material for Thursday night. Inebriated men are lured to the stage and invited to striptease for Andria; by the time they find out she's a he, they're laughing too damn hard to care. Michaels is a drag queen with a message: Comedy has no sexual identity.
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