ORLANDO — It was pouring on Monday night.
Standing safely inside the Amway Center, glancing out the panoramic windows on the terrace level, I watched downtown Orlando get positively soaked from the kind of torrential downpour more typical of the rainy season in June than of February. The skies seemed dark and ominous, almost threatening, as if something far worse than a mere rainstorm was on the way.
Storms like that can set a mood — dark, edgy, and moody.
I had no idea, until I got inside the arena, how perfectly Dead Sara’s performance would match that feeling.
I can admit that I hadn’t heard of Dead Sara, or even shown up for them, when I got to the Amway on Monday. The Los Angeles-based heavy metal band was the opening act for the headliner, Muse, and I was sufficiently impressed by their sound to want to learn more about them.
Opening acts are interesting, in that most people in the crowd don’t show up to see them. They’re more like an added bonus for the concert, like a set of appetizers served before the main course arrives. Chances are, you may not have heard of the opening act, and, like me, it’s your introduction to their sound.
While I was waiting for the show to begin, a middle-aged couple approached me and asked if I had ever seen Muse perform live before. I said I hadn’t.
“Then you’re in for a real treat,” the woman said, adding that she and her husband has just seen the band from England perform live in Tampa.
“They put on quite a show,” she said.
As it turns out, she was right. Muse goes all out, employing a striking number of visual effects to complement their sound — from strobe lights to videos. It’s an extravagant show.
Dead Sara, on the other hand, mostly performed in the dark, allowing their songs to carry the show.
“Dead Sara’s sound is more muddy,” the woman said, and after seeing them perform, I didn’t necessarily disagree — but that’s not a criticism. Dead Sara, as it turns out, has a unique grunge rock sound — think Nirvana, particularly some of that band’s slower but still darkly moody songs. They were not your typical radio-friendly top 40 fare — their sound is far more interesting than that — haunting, challenging, and intense, creating sounds ranging from anger to quiet reflection. They were not what I was expecting.
The band only played for 30 minutes, before exiting the stage to make way for the headlining act. But during that half hour, I found myself caught up in lead singer Emily Armstrong’s stunning vocals. She noted that the band had played in Orlando before, at House of Blues.
Then, looking out at the audience in the arena, Armstrong said, “The last time we played here at House of Blues, was anybody there?”
There was no burst of applause from the audience, no loud cheers or people waving their hands. That prompted Armstrong to laugh and say, “Oh my God, is it quiet in here tonight!”
I knew then that Dead Sara was introducing itself to the audience. In fact, when they had finished their last song, Armstrong said “We are Dead Sara from Los Angeles, California.” And when the crowd cheered, she added, “We love you, too. You guys ready for Muse?”
I left the Amway that night sufficiently intrigued by the band to check them out on the Internet. What I learned is that Dead Sara consists of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Armstrong, backed by Sean Friday on drums, Siouxsie Medley on lead guitar, and Chris Null on bass. The band released its debut album, Dead Sara, last year, along with a single, “Weatherman.” Their work did not go unnoticed. Dead Sara received the “Best New Rock Group” award at the Third annual Vegas Rocks! Magazine Awards 2012 on Aug. 26, 2012 and got nominated for a RadioContraband Rock Radio Award as “Indie Artist of the Year” 2012.
Dead Sara opened its show with a shattering guitar blast that created a potent segway for Armstrong’s vocal skills — from a howling guttural wail to a gentle near-whisper for a beautifully melodic ballad. Their sound is a unique mix of blues, grunge, heavy metal and Goth — more of a European sound, in a sense, than an urban American type of rock.
Along the way, Armstrong delivered an electrifying performance, as the heavy metal guitars created the perfect wave for her screams of passion, despair and wonder.
I left the Amway more impressed with Dead Sara than Muse, and I hope the band finds an audience and continues to develop its unique sound. Like many a good opening act, they can startle and impress you by the unexpected quality of their talent.
To learn more about the band, log on to their Web site at Dead Sara.
Contact R.T. Robeson at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.