Ex Norwegian, Opium Symphony
Dive Bar, Fort Lauderdale
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Better than: Ezra?
Last night, we caught Miami Beach's Ex Norwegian in a rather unusual setting for a polished indie-pop band: Fort Lauderdale's A1A Dive Bar.
The scene was an interesting one to say the least. As Ex Norwegian's four guys and a gal set up their gear, a gaggle of middle-aged women sat around a table in the middle of the room, where they sipped domestic beer from koozie-protected bottles and prattled on with voices that could have been cultivated only from years and years of smoking cigarettes. Behind the women, a crew of sandal-footed young men shot pool, and scattered throughout the bar were a scant few other regulars. It was obvious from the start that Ex Norwegian would be playing to what was probably not its usual crowd.
Regardless of the odd vibe that coursed through the innards of Dive Bar, Ex Norwegian took to the small stage as though it was playing a much larger show, and it did not take very long for its brand of catchy indie rock to win over the small audience.
Early on in the band's set, a man yelled from a corner of the bar that "some Stevie Ray Vaughan would be good!" When I turned to see where the heckle had come from, I was confronted by an archetypically "beachy"-looking older gentlemen. While the man might have been hoping for some Texas blues in place of Ex Norwegian's pop-infused indie, he was sold the minute Houdaille switched to the 12-string side of his double-necked guitar for the jangling intro to the band's third song, so much so that the man rose to his feet, clapped, and raised a fist of love at the group.
As the man -- who we assume spent most of the day with his trusty metal detector hunting lost meter change in the sand -- retook his seat, Ex Norwegian continued to romp through its set of sun-soaked indie rock. The band's drummer, Derek Cintron, brings the rock part of Ex Norwegian's music, sounding like the perfect combination of John Bonham and Bun E. Carlos. As Cintron hammered away at his sparkling green drums, vocalist Michelle Grand's delicate voice was betrayed by her onstage confidence, something that works to the benefit of the entire band as it became rather difficult to notice with Grand front and center. The highlight of Ex Norwegian's set, from a sonic perspective, was the song "Aventura," which displayed the best parts of the group's songwriting.
The songs are a pleasant patchwork of flowing harmonies, drifting chord changes, and driving drums, and though the sound at Dive Bar was lacking, to say the least, Ex Norwegian made the gig feel more like a show.
After Ex Norwegian finished playing, Opium Symphony took the stage that had worn its banner the entire night. In addition to the massive banner -- emblazoned with the name the band had christened its tour -- the band had a ludicrous amount of merchandise available and looked a bit upset to be playing a place like Dive Bar. Opium Symphony obviously takes what it does very seriously, and its music was pretty solid, despite the somewhat arrogant nature of the banner, the merch, and the named tour.
The band sounds kind of like what Mutemath may have been doing in the '90s: college-radio-friendly rock music, spiced up with plenty of glitchy effects and unique changes between passages. The group played with confidence, and each member played his or her instrument exceptionally well, though special kudos are in order for Opium Symphony's drummer, Derron Bell, who played the set with a pretty serious case of poison oak afflicting his foot.
Opium Symphony showed a great deal of potential, though we would like the band to tone down the implied bravado of the banner and merch and allow its music and tight performance to do the talking.
The crowd: Beach folk.
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Personal bias: A loud drummer and a pretty girl go a long way.
Overheard: One of the inebriated middle-aged women helped Ex Norwegian count off each number, usually while the band was in the middle of tuning guitars.