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Mid-August at the posher-than-thou Power Studios in Miami's Design District: A well-dressed throng sips expensive drinks as the lights are slowly dimmed and the velvet curtains part to reveal local act Sunday Driver. Technicians make sure guitars are tuned and cymbal stands are correctly positioned. Without warning, the quartet blazes into action, putting forth a glistening, strong, precise barrage that is comparable to Hüsker Dü/Bob Mould/Sugar without coming off as derivative. One song, "Wrong Things," rocks the room off its foundation; its hammering, stuttering stop/start arrangement proves inescapable. Bandwidth is most impressed.
Two weeks later we enter the Metal Factory (say this in your gruffest Sunday-Sunday-Sundayvoice for maximum effect) and are greeted by Sebastian Bach -- or at least his canned contralto caterwaul -- squealing out the lyrics to the Skid Row chestnut "Youth Gone Wild." The club's nearly empty at 8:15 p.m., allowing us to gaze in mute wonder at the Flying V, which spins suspended from the ceiling. Black lights cast an ominous glow on the collection of Ted Nugent and Limp Bizkit posters as "Seventeen" by Winger contaminates the air. The bar fixtures are made of brushed aluminum. The barmaids look like groupies who hang around air guitarists. A slow trickle of mullet-bearing mopheads filters in, looking as if the last book they read was the Chilton's repair manual for the '86 Camaro. We shudder and order another beer. Mötley Crüe blares.
"Band members, you have one minute," announces the impatient soundman, studying his timepiece, the empty stage, and then his watch again. As Sunday Driver slowly gets its act together, the soundman coughs up a nice introduction, which elicits a smattering of applause. Finally 20-year-old guitarist Charlie Suarez jumps onstage and informs the crowd that he's been cooling his heels outside at the entrance rope thanks to his underage status.
Sunday Driver leaps into action, as if the near-empty room were packed.
"I can't picture staying here with you/ But I catch myself trying," roars singer-guitarist Alex Martinez during the chorus of the high-wattage, anthemic "Final Analysis." Thankfully its searing goodness burns the vestigial remains of Vince Neil's voice out of our synapses. Martinez becomes wildly possessed, leaping off the drum riser, tucking himself into the small, compact stance of a diver, exploding in midair, and windmilling his hand against the strings until his guitar is out of tune. The discord works and the tune takes on a harrowing, demonic edge. Even with this slightly ragged complication, Sunday Driver comes off as impeccably polished and studiously practiced, in charge of a professional appearance and sound that will serve it well in the months to come.
The band busts into its theme song, "Simple Scenery," easily winning over the minuscule crowd. Paul Trust's fastidious drumming keeps the sky-seeking tune from veering past the Van Allen belt.
As the band's brief time slot is exhausted, wig-farmers again overtake the PA, and we stumble outside, enchanted by our discovery. Sunday Driver (whose members live in North Miami Beach and Hallandale Beach) is making an impressive stand. It's only a matter of time before these guys are snagged by a major label. "We've already had Columbia Records interested," sniffles manager Mathew Beckerman. Watching Sunday Driver, local rock fans may recognize members from Makeshift, which morphed within the last year. The new band's first offering is a five-song EP titled Third Place Prize. Keep a close eye on these Drivers, now occupying the fast lane.
Unfortunately they're not typical of the usual fare at the Metal Factory. Why do the ghosts of Fort Lauderdale's past refuse to die? What's so hard about growing up? Music has certainly evolved -- why not our nightlife? To visit this place on most any night when Sunday Driver isn't steaming up the scene is to get an all-too-firm grip on bad nostalgia. Being there is to immerse oneself in all that is inherently South Florida suburban; if this sounds depressing, you'll wish Prozac and Paxil were offered in the washroom vending machines. Cheesy gimmicks like smoke machines and the overall mood of "this was cool 15 years ago" provide an inhospitable environment for discerning fans and musicians alike.
In fact, during Sunday Driver's last tune, a couple of cigarette-puffing, fiftysomething businessmen prowled the crowd, smiling and chatting up the metal babes while looking for a way to extract more money from the proceedings. Only in Fort Lauderdale. Instead of clubs peddling dance music, hard rock, and virtually nothing in between, this town needs a venue that caters to alternative bands. Somewhere between the bourgeoisie of South Beach or Power Studios and the lumpen proletariat inhabiting our strip-mall purgatory, there has to be a middle ground.