Words and Photos by: Nicole L. Browner

Who knew Café du Nord could ever get rowdy, but leave it to Port O'Brien’s hands-on approach to get the crowd intrigued. Actually, just leave it to the crowd, who didn’t hush the entire night.

Dame Satan inaugurated the evening by wrapping the room in silken gypsy callings and southern references. The air became a combination of appropriate use of wah on lead guitar, congregations around the drum set and deep, dreamy harmonies from Andrew Simmons and bassist Mike Chopko you wouldn't believe.

After Dame's brief intro, Afternoons delivered contemporary choir rock akin to Arcade Fire -- and with powerful stage presence. The setup included two drum kits, keys crammed in the corner and a gothic opera singer and tamborinist of sorts, all contributing to a rich full sound. They ended with "Say Yes," their hit from the Lincoln car commercial I've been telling you about.

Leave it to an out-of-town group (from Los Angeles) to forget the name of the next band playing. Most importantly, both they and their femme entourage had fun (drinks flailed to the ceiling with every dance move).

Odawas (from Berkeley, on Jagjaguwar) balanced soft acoustic guitar with electronic beats and keyboard mastery. A handful of mishaps during the set took away from the pair's performance, though the songs themselves are very elegant in a gloomy way. They just didn’t cut it for the packed underground lair, which found them better suited for background music.

Alas, on comes Port O'Brien to desperately save this evening from becoming any old social happening on the block.

Luckily they make haste to getting all eyes back on the stage. Frontman Van Pierszalowski and Zebedee Zaitz challenge each other at solos, Van taking the higher and faster perspective as Zebedee picks lick after lick of impressive blues melody. The interplay was just as physical as it was audible - Van hopped and head-banged all over his small floor occupancy.

The redeeming thing about Port O'Brien, a name in no way unfamiliar throughout the Bay Area, is that they make new even their oldest songs each time they play them. "I Woke Up Today" is a prime example, and just as I realized this point I was listening to the Daytrotter version, with the article even claiming that the track has nine lives. Definitely agreed.

That aside, they've got new songs to share. Their newest 7inch and iTunes release "Winter" promises even stronger songwriting from the Oaklanders, and the b-side "Is This Really What It's Coming To" sounded great live. It starts dark and patient buildup of faint vocals, after each chorus layering one more piece of percussion, then explodes into an eager double time.

By the end Café du Nord is taken by an unyielding cloud of chatter practically provoking Port O'Brien's increased volume. The evening was saved when they pulled out the trunk of crowd percussion for the last number, and everyone seemed to exit with a smile.

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