Sunday, August 21, 2011

Metapost: N's post-Project ponderings

Greetings blog readers.  N here.  In this hiatus between the end of the first (hopefully of many) 2x40x80 Project and whatever we start doing in this space later, I thought I'd write down a few thoughts about this summer.  And what better way to lay out one's thoughts than a Q&A session?  Since R is not here, I have to interview myself, though.
  • Hello, N.  How are you?  
Good, N, and yourself?
  • I'm fine.  So, the project is done.  How do you feel about what you and R did?  Are you tired?
 I feel okay.  What actually happened didn't always match up with our expectations while we were in the planning stage, but it was a fun ride.  It was a pretty frenetic pace of blogging, but we actually could easily have made it to fifty different acts in eight days if, say, a large amount of money had been on the line, enough to override the brief times that apathy or fatigue sometimes marked the project.  It's funny, though --- we got a wide range of responses about the pace we set, from amazement that we could keep it up to outright dismissal from hipsters who claimed they did this sort of thing year-round.  I feel like the blogging part is what made it a chore at times rather than just a social event, though.
  • Interesting. 
You really think so?
  • No, but we're here to talk about this, so might as well keep going.  You mentioned that some things didn't work out as planned? 
Yes.  R and I intended to see a wider range of genres --- we talked about catching some jazz shows, rap, country acts we'd never heard of, maybe even a pop symphony at one point.  While we did occasionally step out of our singer-songwriter, indie-alt-country box (for example, Glitch Mob), it wasn't often.  Still, we're not at all dissatisfied with how it worked out, even if it wasn't what we planned.  The shows sometimes picked us, in a way, and in the end we got the kind of project that would appeal to guys like us, which isn't all that surprising.  Indeed, perhaps we would have become bored with the project if we'd forced an artificial imposition of variety for variety's sake upon ourselves.
  • In your second metapost, you said that you were going to try to branch out to as many different venues as you could.  How'd that work out for you? 
Again, not quite as expected.  We saw six shows at the Granada and a whopping fourteen at Club Dada.  But those are terrific places to see shows!  I don't think we need to make apologies for returning to quality.  The idea that we were going to see a lot of different venues new to us was only a rough guideline, not a rule set in stone, anyway.
  • Excuses, excuses.  So, what were people's reactions when you told them about the project?
The number one question that people always asked was, "Which band was your favorite?"
  • Okay, so what was your favorite band?
The Old 97's.
  • I call foul.  They're national at this point, and anyway, you went to high school with Rhett and hang out with him.  They don't count.  What was your favorite local act? 
That's a really tough one.  I could mention four or five but I guess I'll say El Cento.  As much as I dig the very talented alt-country acts around here, El Cento's new-New Wave songwriting puts them ahead by a nose.
  • Again, the singer is a friend of yours.  Nice.  This is just an excuse to praise your buddies, isn't it?  What was your favorite act that was new to you? 
Easy.  Tiger Darrow.  Beguiling voice, capable of playing a wide array of instruments, great lyrics.
  • Yes, she was terrific.  Destined for great things, I'd say.  So... what was your least favorite act? 
Oh, now that would just be snide.  I'll let the blog posts speak for themselves and not hold out any one or two acts in particular.
  • Coward.  This next question is a slight variant on the one about your favorite act.  There's a subtle degree of difference here: What was the act that put on the best show?
 Man, that's tough.  The O's are just such consummate showmen, but I'm gonna have to go with Slobberbone.  A band, by the way, that five out of five of my female co-workers did not enjoy hearing the name of and did not want to hear any more about after I mentioned it.
  • Don't you know the guys in Slobberbone, too? 
Yes, but that has nothing to with how terrific a show they put on.
  • There's clearly no point in talking to you about Dallas musicians.  What about the venues?  Which one was your favorite? 
Well, clearly, Granada is bringing the big gun to that fight: terrific sound, large stage, seating and standing room, more than one bar, good food, best AC in town, and nice and friendly staff, etc.  But I gotta mention Club Dada, too, for their superb sound and their penchant for hosting talented acts.
  • Mostly this blog is read by musicians and venue managers, isn't it?  Did you get any notable comments from the musicians you reviewed?
Yes, a few such as the O's, THe BAcksliders, Johnny Tone, and Ryan Thomas Becker (another terrific act that was new to us) liked our page and got us a big bump in hits from their fans.  Sometimes the fans themselves didn't appreciate what we posted.  On the other hand, we heard from a few bands who contacted us and said they appreciated our review, even if it was slightly negative --- along the lines of "thanks for the review, guys, we know, it wasn't a great show, catch us another time," etc.  Grey, the New Black was one such even-headed band.  But another act, Nervous Curtains, took offense to their review, tweeting that we were a "terrible blogger" who only knew "current musical trends" and that our musical references for them were "wrong."  Well, okay, but I maintain that the way to make people say you sound like Rainbow (that's what they wanted us to say) is to fucking sound like Rainbow and not an emo Nick Cave.
  • Man, you're a bitter, mean fellow, aren't you?
 It has been remarked.
  • R is a much nicer guy than you are.  Is he going to have any wrap-up remarks?
 He works unusual hours and has a family, so only if he somehow carves out the time.
  • I think we're done here.  Want to add anything else? 
Yes.  You are a terrible interviewer.
  • I know.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

40. Ishi at Club Dada, 8/13/11

40. Ishi, at Club Dada.

Hey, how about those visuals?

The third and final act of the night (and final act in the official count --- that's Forty, baby) was Ishi.  A trancey electronica three-piece, they performed with video screens flashing psychedelic abstract colors behind them.  The male singer sported a hat, beard and long braids, while the female singer was dressed in some sort of handkerchief/loincloth combo.  N thought the whole thing had a distinctly '70s lounge/porn music vibe.

It was big with the crowd, for sure.  Dada often asks patrons who they've come to see when several bands are on, and the great majority tonight answered Ishi.  The floor was more crowded than at any time previously.  Proving that if you do live dance music in Dallas with even the most modest amount of panache people will come.

They had decent beats, but it was all somehow underplayed. R thought perhaps that Ishi was sitting on the musical fence, unable to decide whether they were dance or indie.  They definitely were trying to put on some sort of risque "show," but we felt that they were piling on the effects to little effect. Yes, the crowd dug it, but in a sort of subdued way, nodding and tapping along --- hardly the bacchanalia that some dance bands get going on the floor.  Anyway, we remained unimpressed.

It's interesting that almost everyone we spoke to about this band said, "Yeah, but have you seen the visuals?"  We didn't give a damn about the visuals, but even granting that there was some entertainment value to be had from them...  If the strength of your band is projecting the "sleazy James Bond" effect from Windows Media Player onto a screen, perhaps it's time to turn your attention to the music.

Outside for a bit to smoke, we noticed a girl so inebriated that she took her pants off.  After she (or a friend) put them back on again, she approached N out of the blue, and apropos of nothing declared him "an asshole with opinions."  But how did she know?

In sum: Isis is a spectacle, but we were unimpressed with the display.  We tend to respond to talent, and it was hard to tell if there was any behind all the smoke and mirrors. It seemed like the singer was trying to be a shaman, but if you're not smoking his stuff, what he offers is pretty empty.

Lesson learned: Dallas is hungry for trance music, and this lineup was reversed.  El Cento deserved to be the headliner.


Then we headed back to the Barley House where we heard a bit of a jam band called Holding Space, notable for a talented, barefoot female saxophonist.

And with that, this first 2x40x80 Project is complete. That's forty, count 'em forty, different bands seen, reviewed, and blogged. Watch this space for some Final Thoughts.

39. Nervous Curtains at Club Dada, 8/13/11

39. Nervous Curtains, at Dada.

Are they wearing pants behind those sheets?

Another trio, Dallas' own Nervous Curtains, hit the stage next.  They appeared to play two different kinds of keyboard or synthesizer, and drums.  Lead singer Sean Kirkpatrick was dressed like a skinny Han Solo behind his futuristic control deck.

Perhaps wanting to make their name stick, the band actually hung sheets or curtains from their keyboards.  But what we wanted to know was, what (if anything) was making those curtains nervous?

The music was, of course, synthy and heavy.  They had a sort of emo Nick Cave or shoegazing Kurt Weill vibe going --- a rather dark '80s feel.  They dabbled in various branches of the '80s tree, from Bauhaus to an almost dance-hall Clash number at one point.  R thought they were aiming for an "Arcade Fire, but with less instruments" tag.  Except, you know, more lugubrious.

A couple of times between songs they twiddled the knobs on their synths just a bit longer than is usually deemed acceptable by the audience.  "Thanks for your patience," said Sean as they tried to find whatever correct level or tuning they were seeking.  These things happen, but N felt it was a moment representative of the band's overall lack of stage dynamism. 

Listening to Nervous Curtains' set, we felt perhaps the fans of this band were profoundly dissatisfied with life.  Or in any case, the kind of people willing to accept the band's lack of engagement.  The band might have seemed more of a fit in a mid-'90s goth club.

We imagined the uber-Nervous Curtains fan.  The girl that won't read the popular vampire novels because they're sell-outs. She bites hard enough to draw blood when making out with her boyfriend.  She likes making her friends come see this band.  The band is not bad, but no one except her has any fun.

In sum: We weren't swept away by Nervous Curtains' brand of musical theater.  R thought maybe a sexy goth girl singer and a My Bloody Valentine-style guitarist might spice things up.  Or, as he put it, "Become a completely different band and you'd have something."  N wasn't quite as dismissive, but would have preferred Nervous Curtains to be more Nick Cave --- dark, sure, but boldly theatrical, with story-based songs and strong lyrics --- and less emo.

38. El Cento at Club Dada, 8/13/11

38. El Cento, at Club Dada.

Keep it nice and loud.

There we were, on day Seventy-Nine of the Project, back yet again at Club Dada.  The cover was ten bucks for three bands.  Who was first to take the stage?  El Cento!

Fifty or so people were watching --- not bad for the opener --- as frontman Don Cento, in a natty black tie on black shirt, joked from the stage during sound check.  Drum and bass completed the power trio.  They were wearing black too.  Come to think of it, lots of bands we've seen this summer have worn only black.  Is that this summer's musical fashion statement?  We aren't on that mailing list.

Sounding very much like Talking Heads if they'd grown up in Dallas listening to Devo and Television, El Cento knocked song after song out of the venue.  The vocals were strong and clear (again, Chris Carmichael is a sound master), the music tight.  Three terrific songs in, more folks started to moving closer to the stage.

We'd seen El Cento quite some time ago, and liked them, but they were light-years ahead of that earlier show.  Strong from touring, they took charge of the stage and made greatness look effortless.  Don had an easy, confident rapport with the crowd; early on, he cheerfully mentioned that Beyond Thunderdome was playing on Dada's TV, and it was switched off.  He hadn't been having a Rock Star Moment, trying to impose his will or anything like that, but it was clear that El Cento's music was the more entertaining option.

The guys are so talented, the songs --- New Wave love letters, but fresh and original, clearly from Don's heart --- are so terrific, that El Cento is definitely TV commercial-ready, major label-ready, major-tour-ready... Whatever defines success in this MP3 era, they should have lots of it.

There's a music lover out there somewhere who's wondering why he only likes things they don't make any more.  He'll love El Cento.

To play devil's advocate, we're sure that there are some who might hear El Cento and at first flush wonder if they don't lay on the Talking Heads fixation a bit too heavy.  There are flashes of David Byrne growl-vocals, there are the same seagull-cry guitar noises that instantly recall "This Must Be the Place;" the lyrics are even influenced by that Byrne algorithm that values euphony over sense.  But to that, we would reply, first, that El Cento certainly puts it own spin on its influences rather than slavishly copying them.  Second, that making the music that the Talking Heads would be making if David Byrne hadn't transcended Rock and gone on to World Art is no bad thing --- indeed, it's damned impressive and terrific fun.

In sum: New Wave pop-rock perfection.  This is N's favorite Dallas band, and given what we've written about Slobberbone and the O's, that's saying a lot.  They should be huge.  You should see them.  You should buy the album.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

37. Fate Lions at the Double Wide, 8/6/11

37. Fate Lions, at the Double Wide.

This band needs more guitars.

After watching Gravity Feed for a while, we taxied over to the Double Wide, Deep Ellum's favorite flair-festooned, two-bar venue, where we were just in time to see Victory March, four guys nattily attired in ties and vests, finish the last few notes of their indie-rock set and file offstage.  Oh well.  Another time, perhaps.  Next up was Forth Worth's Fate Lions!

When they began, a total of twelve people, including us and our two friends, had paid the five dollar cover to see the band.  There were lots of people outside and in the other bar; possibly few were aware the set had started.  R remarked that it might be a good idea for Double Wide to install some sort of neon sign in the main bar that would light up when the music started, to let otherwise distracted patrons know it was time to move next door.  

The five guys --- three guitars, bass, and drum, apparently --- on stage launched into a very truncated indie rock set. After about four songs, including a nice, rather upbeat cover of the Smiths' "I Know It's Over," they said their thanks and started pulling off their instruments.  Amazed that they stopped so soon, we started up a rousing chorus of "Play one more!" and, grinning, the band obliged.

At this point several more patrons had decided to file in, so now there were about 24 people watching, three or four dancing enthusiastically.  When Fate Lions stopped playing the encore we'd requested, we were able to convince them, the newcomers' voices combining with our chants, to play another two or three songs.

We really enjoyed their set: rousing, jangling indie pop reminiscent of Steve Wynn or Nick Lowe, influenced by R.E.M., New Wave, and the Paisley Underground movement.  The high, sort of droning nasal vocals suited the peppy, crackling guitar-heavy sound.  Beyond the songs themselves, Fate Lions played with a driving, positive energy that had the audience smiling.  After the second impromptu encore, our friends C and J tried to get them to play on, but by then the stage was closing and they couldn't.

In sum: Guitar-driven indie pop, clearly informed by '80s alternative scenes, but fresh and new.  The opposite of shoegaze.  You know that one guy in college, the one who always likes the local bands you've never heard of, the kind of guy who would have owned 10,000 vinyl albums if he'd been born fifteen years before?  ...That guy really likes this band. He has good taste.  You should see them.

36. Gravity Feed at the Barley House, 8/6/11

36. Gravity Feed, at the Barley House.

The tip jar's so bright you gotta wear shades.

On Saturday night (which was Day Seventy-Two in the Project) we joined approximately forty other patrons to listen to jam-funk band Gravity Feed do their thing at the Barley House.

Gravity Feed have an interesting line-up: five guys, on two guitars, bass, sax, and drums.  So you don't get the brass totally driving the sound, as with some funk bands, but rather as an interesting counterpoint to the jam-noodling of the guitars.

Apparently popular with frat crowd and those who wished they were still part of the frat crowd, the band played to its audience with groovy funky-mellow licks and even more mellow stage banter: "How is everyone?  We're gonna play everything tonight; it's awesome.  Yeah."  We thought it a safe bet that most in the audience remembered with fondness the last time they smoked a little weed.

As with most jam bands, it was hard to tell where one extended jam stopped and a new one began, though Gravity Feed did throw in a few change-ups.  They added a little spice to the funk-rock mix with some Spanish vocals, and later on they busted out some quite good CSNY/Chigaco-style alto harmonies.  At another point they even had a sort of Grandmaster Flash-era, "Rapture"-esque boogity rap thing going.

In sum: Talented and amiable on stage, Gravity Feed gave the crowd what they were looking for: protracted funk-rock licks.  We were pleased by their willingness to deviate from the jam-band template and play around the fringes of some other styles.  A fun bar band.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

35. THe BAcksliders at the Free Man, 8/5/11

35. THe BAcksliders, at the Free Man.

These boots are made for backsliding

The opening night of the Free Man, right next door to Adair's, featured irritatingly-capitalized rock band THe BAckliders.  Yes, we went to another new venue!  We liked the atmosphere and the staff was very friendly.  There were apparently a few kinks in the kitchen service as it got backlogged by an influx of patrons it wasn't quite ready for, but we both liked the space.  Nice and clean, good tables, and from what we heard, those who did get food enjoyed it a lot.  In time, the Free Man could be a go-to Deep Ellum location.

So, THe BAckliders rocked the small stage. There was no cover, and about thirty people were listening when we were there.  King Bucks keyboardist Chad Stockslager had also slipped into the Free Man between his band's sets to cheer them on, which is high praise indeed.

We had never seen THe BAckliders before.  They played a fast-paced indie-power-pop set, with Pixies-esque crashing percussion and snarling riot grrrl vocals courtesy of singer Kim Bonner, who presented herself as the sultry vamp of the band, sexy boots and a yard of cleavage on display.

N was reminded of the band Helium, while R thought of X --- "though that may be too high a compliment," he added.  Certainly the band featured X's fierce energy and hoarse screaming female vocals; the drum and bass were particularly strong.  The guitar was slightly overshadowed by the other sounds, though we heard some bluesy rock and rockabilly riffs here and there.

On the final number, there was some showboating --- guitar played from a prone position, bass played behind back, that sort of thing.  It was loud and riotous; Kim seemed to being giving it all her lung power, but we couldn't make out the lyrics; perhaps this is not typical for the BAnd, but rather due to a new soundsystem being put through its paces.

In sum: Alt-country framework, indie rock bass and drums providing the muscle, and screaming female vocals.  THe BAckliders filled the space with their raucous energy and put on a fun show.