The debate over the merit -- or lack thereof -- of various Miami venues for live music recurs pretty much every day across the local blogosphere and social media landscape.
One day, it's commercial radio rock that's getting the shaft. The next day, it's all bands, indie rock or not. And so goes the largely Facebook- and Twitter-fueled infighting.
But one talented local artist posits a new twist: It's actually, says Robert Elias, musicians unafraid to wave the pop flag who have it the worst in Miami.
"For some strange reason people are afraid of pop music and what it means to be labeled a pop artist. But I've always been fascinated by it," says the 20-something Elias, who recently self-released a solo album titled Magic City in homage to his hometown.
"What makes it difficult is trying to convince some of the newer bars, promoters, and booking agents that a pop show can be a live rock show that fans want to come see. It's ironic, because the biggest-selling acts in the world are pop acts. It's almost as if, because you are doing pop music, you can't be indie or cool enough for these venues."
Veneer of coolness or not, Elias is proud to wave the pop flag. He got his start locally in the Latin industry, writing songs, touring, and singing background for mega-artists like Alejandro Sanz, Don Omar, and Marc Anthony. But from the beginning, he dreamed of doing universal, danceable solo work.
Elias's childhood idols included the likes of David Bowie and George Michael, along with late-'80s and early-'90s R&B and dance music. That translates, in 2012, to an artsy yet crowd-pleasing style that traverses sunny, catchy guitar-driven ditties ("Come on Over"), torch song-style soul ("Saved"), and, perhaps in a nod to the city's clubs, pulsing, New Age-y disco-pop ("Night Calls").
With a pro songwriter's knack for memorable melodies and concise song structure, Elias has created a body of work that's unabashedly radio-friendly. But with an aim at arenas, he says it's difficult trying to find local stepping stones to get there.
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Luckily, he says, in the past few months, opportunities for him and a few other like-minded artists, such as female-fronted band Roky Sofi, have improved. "I created a band, the Revenge, because venues were less judgmental of the music if I had a cool band name, and we've been gigging a ton. I love playing Brickell Irish Pub, Bougainvillea's, and recently I played a benefit for the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center that was amazing," he says. "Usually it takes someone who is willing to take the chance."
Another venue taking a chance is the Clevelander Hotel, where Elias takes the stage on Wednesday, May 30, and where he promises entertainment on par with that of any full rock band and an ethos as indie as it comes. "As of right now, I am my own manager, promoter and booking agent and thankfully, I am not living in the streets. I'm making a living doing music only," he says. "If that's not what an independent artist is, then I don't know what is."
Robert Elias and the Revenge. Wednesday, May 30. The Clevelander Hotel, 1020 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach. The show starts at 9 p.m. and admission is free. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-532-4006 or visit clevelander.com.