Bands Glow Red at the Red Hot Buffalo Bar in Cardiff, Wales

Vocalist Gareth David-Lloyd (foreground, left) and bassist Rhys Bryant (background, right) of Blue Gillespie. All photos by Lynette Porter.

As a showcase for currently unsigned bands, Cardiff's Buffalo Bar unites passionate musicians and fervent fans for a red-hot entertainment experience.

Red is my color -- at least on this visit to Cardiff. It's the sliver of sun breaking the gray clouds of a Cardiff dawn. The RBG Grill's decor -- from cups to chairs to tinted glass. Across the street, the huge Welsh dragon welcoming guests to the CIA (don't worry -- that's the Cardiff International Arena). The name of the radio station situated within the Red Dragon Centre, where my favorite Doctor Who exhibit is the red-light-and-smoke-heavy Daleks. Most intriguing this trip is the red light-washed bands on stage upstairs at the Buffalo Bar.

On this Wednesday night, three local bands with a European reputation performed before their enthusiastic fans. Some in the audience also were local, but others traveled from around the UK (or, in my case, from the US). Blue Gillespie opened the evening around 9 with head-banging, pulse-pounding prog metal. Headliners All the Damn Vampires and Fire Season grabbed the mic next and kept the room sparking with sound and energy into the night.

Cardiff's night life is full of clubs and bars in the city center, and they attract crowds any night of the week. Trendy Buffalo Bar stands out with its own blend of cozy warmth downstairs and edgier minimalism upstairs. Those waiting to hear the featured musicians can arrive early for dinner or drinks.

Away from the bar, the seating more closely resembles a comfy (if crowded) living room with overstuffed chairs, low tables, photo-covered walls, and, yes, red light-bulbed floor lamps. Even when the room is full, friends carve out their own bubble of space for conversation. Out back, a small garden provides yet another space for a drink or a smoke before the entertainment moves indoors, or even a chance to chat with one of the evening's musicians. The low-key atmosphere downstairs contrasts with the urgent musical catharsis upstairs once the bands take the stage.

Far more than a meeting place for friends or fans, Buffalo's also provides an important cultural function: it's a showcase for musicians and an economically viable venue for music fans to sample local sounds or support favorite bands. For the £4 ($6-7 US) cover, the audience this evening stood or danced close to the performers on stage or snagged one of the few tables against the walls. Either place was a good spot to watch the performance up close and personal.

Exterior of Buffalo Bar, Cardiff, Wales

On this night I moved to the music only a few feet from stage, close enough to follow Blue Gillespie's Anthony Clark and Rhys Bryant as fingers caressed or demanded notes from the guitar and bass. The pulse thrummed through the audience with every beat from Nick Harrison's drums, and I absorbed the impassioned lyrics from Gareth David-Lloyd, his eyes clenched shut, head thrown back. The crowd became part of the performance, living the music along with the band. That should be the focus of local venues, a communion of those who make the music and those who partake of it.

Buffalo Bar sets the stage to transform listener and performer -- to keep music live and unfettered by artifice. It offers currently unsigned bands that all-important showcase while keeping hometown audiences entertained with a variety of bands any night of the week. Buffalo's emphasizes a music experience that's red hot, vital, and well worth the trip -- whether across Cardiff or the Atlantic.

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