Friday, June 24, 2011

14. Rhett Miller at the Belmont Hotel, 6/23/11

14. Rhett Miller at the Belmont Hotel.

This guy is a believer in mythologies.

Dallas' favorite musical son, Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller, played an acoustic set by the pool at the Hotel Belmont for their summer concert series, "Barefoot at the Belmont."  Of course, the whole thing was a sham, because he was wearing shoes the whole time, the scoundrel.

Recently a reader commented (not electronically, but to our faces, in person) that reading 2x40x80 was a bit different than reading the usual music reviews because we seem to know many of the musicians personally, so we're always writing about how nice they are, or what they said after the show, etc.  So we don't come off as professionally removed from the shows, but that's fine.  We're not, after all, professionals, and we don't want to seem something we're not.  This is how we experience what we see, and we don't want to pretend otherwise.

So all that said, how do we write about a Rhett Miller show when we've known Rhett for twenty-plus years, grown up with him, hung out at his parents' house, seen him and his band play literally hundreds of times?  We're simply not going to hear the music the same way a casual, or even a dedicated, fan does.

And so, yeah, Rhett's music is pretty great, and we both think that the Old 97's are, no exaggeration, one of the best bands playing music today, and we're not in the habit of flattering anyone.  But let's face it, at this point, we're not listening to the music when we see Rhett play.  We're there to have a good time with our friends, people who have also known Rhett for years and years.

So all that said, the show.

Rhett followed Salim Nourallah, whose set we did not see, unfortunately, but we were too busy hanging out in the hotel taking advantage of free food and drink.  Look, we're only human, damn it.  But Rhett had a lot of good things to say about Salim, and noting that many of the songs he played that night were in fact recorded by the super-producer himself.

To left: the famous Dallas
skyline.  To right: drunks.

As always, Rhett was witty and pleasant on stage, telling stories and cracking self-deprecating jokes.  He looked back at the Dallas skyline lit behind him and compared it unfavorably to the "Austin City Limits" fake backdrop.  "This is the real thing!" he asserted, to the cheers of the regionally patriotic.  (Rhett's also always a little bit ingratiating when it comes to talking about Dallas to Dallas audiences.)

He also told two stories about meeting Ken Bethea, the Old 97's guitarist --- "a guy who really had it together, because he had a car, but we thought he was a weirdo because he played accordion."  He said that he and Murray knew they were going to like him, however, when he pronounced guitar as "gee-tar."  He noted that Ken "Is no Stevie Ray, but he shreds in his own way," a nice backhanded compliment.  He finished up his second story --- which he stopped "St. Ignatius" to tell --- by proclaiming to the audience, "I love weirdos, that's why I like you guys so much."  (See what we mean about the ingratiating thing?)

A particularly exuberant fan kept getting up next to Rhett and dancing, and at one point he let her sing a few lines of "Doreen," except she sang "Darlene."  She was quite drunk.

Rhett finished up the set with a cover of Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas," then "Every Night is Friday Night" and a necessarily subdued "Timebomb."

Then we hung out with Rhett, his wife, and some other dudes in his hotel suite.  Sorry, but as we explained at the beginning of this post, that's how we roll.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

13. The O's at Club Dada, 6/18/11

13. The O's at Club Dada.

Whole-wheat goodness in every bowl.

We seem to be returning to Club Dada quite a bit... Well, that'll stop when they quit booking must-see acts.  There was a ten-dollar cover, and worth every penny.

Remember how, in the last post, we said we weren't going to say anything bad about Slobberbone because they were just that good?  This also goes for the O's.  There are literally no grounds whatsoever on which to criticize this excellent, accomplished act.

The O's are a duO who play several instruments each.  Guitar, kick drum, lowebro, vibes, harmonica, banjo.  A lot of different sounds coming from these two guys.  Boozy silly funny stage banter.  Acoustic pop-folk, earnest and sometimes quite moving story-songs.

If you see them for the first time and like them, you will, as we have, see them many times again, and like them better each time. If you see them and you don't like them, there is something wrong with you.  Perhaps you would be happier at one of those shows where teenagers lip-synch breathy lines and there is a lot of gyrations by choreographed professionally fit people.

Don't get hung up on "acoustic."  The O's keep up a rapid, rollicking, bluegrass-raised-on-rock tempo.  Their screaming/yearning ballad "I Love You So Much" is a favorite.  "You've Got Your Heart" has a driving, forceful backbeat.  Overall, their showmanship is honed and refined by years of touring across the country and Europe. 

Local musicians in attendance that we spoke to: Salim Nourallah and Trey Carmichael of Sorta and Psycho Pony.

In sum: The O's are multi-talented instrumentalists, superb songwriters, and funny and personable onstage.  They have refined themselves into one of the best local bands, period.  There were four acts on the bill this night at Dada, but we had no regrets whatsoever about catching only the O's.  As far as we're concerned, we saw the show.

Later in the night, we saw a brother on a horse, just cold trotting down the street.  You don't see that every day.

12. Slobberbone at the Granada, 6/18/11

12. Slobberbone, at the Granada.
These are men of note.

Day Twenty-Three. Back to the Granada for local heroes Slobberbone.  It was a decent-sized crowd, but the venue was not as full as it should have been.  Tickets were $15.

Slobberbone is a four-piece country-rock band: two guitars, drums, bass, and the occasional banjo.  It ought to be noted upfront that we know the Slobberbone guys, we love Slobberbone, and while we do try to be impartial, this is not the place you're going to read anything bad about Slobberbone.

They brought it hard and fast early on.  It was loud Texas rawk.  Actually, ear-splittingly loud rawk.  Our friend C characterized it as "uncomfortably loud."  In fact, it was so very loud that even though the Granada has a superb sound system, at times it was fuzzy and muddled.  Still, it was great to see them up on a big stage with the sound as powerful as they wanted.

Okay, we covered loud, but did we mention talented?  Jess Barr might be best guitarist in Texas.  But damn if singer and Robbie Fulks soundalike Brent Best isn't pretty good at the ole guitar too.  And superb bass picking/thumping from Brian Lane, he of the big white cowboy hat.

Three songs in, and it remained an unending sonic assault.  Great story songs in Neil Young fashion followed by what should be rock radio hits. We were both familiar with the band's material, as we noted, but they seemed to be even better this night than we remembered.  There's just no reason they shouldn't be huge.  Except, oh wait, that porn-star name.  Our friend C illustrated this possibility when, despite absolutely loving the show, he would not buy a T-shirt with the word "Slobberbone" on it.

Crowd favorite "Gimme Back My Dog" was introduced by Brent as "not really about a dog." Brian broke into the song with a deadpan, "Oh, give him back his dog," which got a laugh.  We were treated to an explosive "Dunk You in the River," and the funny, bouncy "Engine Joe," which the crowd sang along to with drunken gusto.  The terrific, maudlin/silly "Lazy Guy" was introduced with, "I wrote this song about myself."

The songs continued, and the pace did not let up.  After a blistering "Can't Stay Sober" --- during which there were intros, solos all around, some showing off (Brian played the bass behind his back and over his head), and a bit of stage banter --- the guys withdrew.  The crowd demanded an encore, and they returned to play Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," ending with a five-minute feedback solo, with guitar and bass on the floor, reverb echoing, foot pedals working, whale noises squawking along with the deep fuzzy rumble of the bass... Just like Neil would have loved it.

In sum: There was not a single moment when they were anything less than fucking solid.  They didn't do a lot of talking, preferring to let their instruments make their point; but when they did speak they were funny and personable. One disappointing note: there were no CDs at the merch table! Why not, fellows?

We saw the guys a couple of hours later at the Barley House.  They were still sweaty.  Now that's rawk.

Friday, June 17, 2011

11. The Elected at Club Dada, 6/16/11

11. The Elected, at Club Dada.

Boy meets stage.

Around 11:20, the main act of the evening, indie pop act The Elected, took the stage.  At this point there were about 75 people watching.  Frontman Blake Sennett is better known in the music world as the guitarist for Rilo Kiley, but never mind all that!  When we approach a new band, we come at it all blank slate.  Because that's how we roll.

The Elected was made up this night of three guys --- Sennett with his guitar, a drummer and a keyboardist --- and a talented young lady on keys, steel drums, and violin as the song demanded.  The music was slow and melodic, with surfy guitars, soft percussion, slow steel drums, high violin notes, all crashing around Bennett's high-pitched voice.  Laid-back, evocative of California in mood perhaps, but actually sounding rather like Belle & Sebastian without the ultra-catchiness, or Beachwood Sparks sans the harmonies.

Bennett, with his emo hair and his pleasant if breathy voice, makes a good frontman, and knows how to reel in the fans with his earnest, story-driven lyrics, feelings all on display ("I was born to love you and I will love you until you love me too;" "You're still as sad as you ever were, selling out to the man you trust"; "Would you come home baby if I take it all back, 'cause I can take it all back"). The multi-instrumentalist on the left in the photo above was very good at each instrument she turned to, and on steel drums or violin carried the entire song's melody.  The drumming was subtle and understated, but perfect for this type of music.
The crowd up in front --- younger folks, mostly women and a few clearly gay men --- was eager and anticipatory, as if waiting to dance or make out or possibly both.  But they never did.  There were a few unrestrained, high-pitched Beatlemania-type squeals, but that's it.  Meanwhile, over at the bar, the more usual Dada crowd was talking loudly, uninterested in the band.

The Elected clearly have some kind of spark.  R decided he liked it quite a bit, though he thought he wouldn't going in.  N just wasn't moved by it all --- perhaps this particular show was too laid-back for him, despite the Belle & Sebastian comparison.  Apparently, Sennett had done a solo acoustic set at 8:00 that evening, which we missed, unfortunately; sometimes the more intimate, bare-bones versions are the best way to be introduced to new material.

In sum: Sennett's got a certain kind of mumbly stage charisma (Him: "Dallas, huh?  Wow... Uh, nice that you're all here.... [unintelligible muttering]" Fangirl: "Squeeee!"), and he's got a talented crowd of players around him.  The Elected's music, if not happy per se, is hopeful and emotional.  (One of our notes reads, "summertime hippie gay music.")  R would come back to see them, if he were younger, and brought along a certain type of girl.  N was indifferent.

10. Calhoun at Club Dada, 6/16/11

10. Calhoun, at Club Dada.

Day Twenty-One.  Back at the Dada for the second time to see Fort Worth band Calhoun at 10:30. There was a $12 cover, with about 50 people in attendance.

Grandsons of Johnny Cash.

Clad all in black, as is their wont, the five-piece (two guitars, keyboard, bass, drums, an occasional accordion) were polished and loud.  The volume was ear-splitting, but not at all muddled.  Singer Tim Locke rightly praised the Dada's improved sound, calling it "really bad ass."  High praise indeed.

Calhoun has an '80s streak to them, hearkening at times to the Paisley Underground scene, to more of a, dare we say it, pop-punk sound on their faster material.  There's a hint of country, but Johnny Cash is only a very distant ancestor of this music. Perhaps they're like the Old 97s brought up on Black Tie Dynasty.  At one point the lyrics cited the Smiths ("shyness is nice and shyness can stop you"), which is a closer relative.

It was immediately clear that everyone in the band is an excellent musician.  The guitars carried the sound; at times we felt the drums were being over-shadowed by the accomplishments of the others. The drummer wasn't bad by any means, just surrounded by very talented guys.  Locke has a great voice for his material, plaintive and urgent.

The energy in the room was good.  The crowd included a lot of enthused fans singing along.  We felt the guys could have peppered things up with a bit of between-song banter, though. They did make extensive use of the handclap.  Our drunk friend S wondered "if they bought matching instruments on purpose, or got a deal at Guitar Center."

We weren't familiar with the material, but we liked the snippets of it we grasped: "I got a kick drum heart." "My heart's a garage band." "It's beautiful and sad, the things you don't want to do, you're going to do."

Friend of the band Dany Balis was there, and pronounced Calhoun "really great," saying he'd been following them for years.  Balis' opinion, of course, should be valued by anyone with an ear.

We meant to try the tacos at Club Dada again to see if we just happened to get some greasy ones last time, but we didn't get around to it.  Frankly, we were put off by the bar being out of both Jack and Coke.  Being out of the first is pretty astonishing but forgivable; but being out of Coke?

A local crazy dude familiar to Dada patrons shambled up on stage and played keys for the last song, which was nice.

Post-show, the band showed little interest in selling merch, which is possibly a virtue, but somewhat annoying and baffling to those who might want to, say, show their support of the band's art and put money in their pockets.

In sum:  Calhoun put on a great show for their fans.  They're talented musicians.  We thought we'd have enjoyed it a lot better if we'd been familiar with the material in the first place, but based on the material we weren't sure that we'd spend a lot of time listening to it.  Though the newer stuff was, to us, clearly the strongest.  However, now we'll never know, because no one was at the merch table.

Oh, and bars shouldn't run out of Coke.

Monday, June 13, 2011

9. Archers of Loaf at the Loft, 6/12/11

9. Archers of Loaf, at the Loft.
Rare photo of bassist without blurry edges.

We're back after a short hiatus.  Day Seventeen (the days march on, inexorably) found us at the Loft, that upstairs room at Gilley's, at 10:40 p.m., watching the reunited '90s indie band Archers of Loaf take the small stage.

Tickets were twenty dollars, with about two hundred people in attendance, not too bad for a Sunday night after the Mavs won the Super Bowl, or so we hear.

It was a mostly male crowd.  In fact, a good percentage of the people there resembled Rivers Cuomo.

We approached the AoL show from two different perspectives.  R was a fairly big fan in the '90s, but hadn't listened to them in over a decade.  N had heard of them, of course, but knew next to nothing about their sound.  They're akin to Pavement and the Pixies: guitar-focused; going from quiet to loud and back; with personal, sometimes free-association lyrics.

The group reformed in January of this year; this summer tour is their first since 1998.  They certainly didn't appear rusty this evening, though.  They took the stage (after hanging around a bit, mostly unrecognized, by the merch table) with the calm assurance of long-time veterans, started off hard and fast, played together as if with a single mind, and blew through the set list with few distractions.

An early, brief, interruption came after the first song, when drummer Mark Price asked for his entire kit to be turned up: it was a good call.  Bassist Matt Gentling was a whirling blur most of the time, once stepping halfway off the stage's edge while pogoing about, but he stayed upright.  Singer and professional tall person Eric Bachmann, in terrific voice all night, took a seat at one point to play keys on his lap for a slow intro to "Dead Red Eyes," but that transition was handled quickly and smoothly as well.

At one point while guitars were being switched out, Matt took the opportunity to tell a joke: a horse walks into a bar.  The bartender says, "Why the long face?" (a line yelled out in advance by some wiseguy who thought he'd let everyone know he'd heard it before).  The horse replies, "Because I have AIDS."  Keeping the audience on their toes, you see.  He also opened a beer with a water bottle in one fluid motion, then went right back to rocking --- no mean feat, we think you'll agree.

Bloopy instrumental intros. Lots of guitar switching. Modulator noises and fuzz. Drums kicking in hard.  Angry-sounding, rapid vocals.  Shades of Sebadoh, My Morning Jacket, Flaming Lips.

Many in the crowd were clearly long-time fans.  When the band got quiet, everyone settled in to listen; you could've heard a pin drop, if Eric hadn't been playing guitar and singing quietly.  Then when the noise kicked in, there were air-punching singalongs, as on "You And Me," "Greatest of All Time," and "Might."

R found himself recognizing the songs, remembering how much he loved them, and decided he still loved the band. They were playing better than on the original records, he thought.

N showed his appreciation by yelling out, "Aaaaaarchers!"  R told him to stop that.

Some of our favorites were "Plumbline" ("she's an indie rocker, nothing's gonna stop her"); the very catchy minor hit "Web In Front" ("all I ever wanted was to be your spine"; "you're not the one who let me down, but thanks for offering"), and the superb finale, "Harnessed in Slums," which was so fast and savage it could have come from a Dropkick Murphys or SubHumans show.

Afterwards, R got the band to sign his poster.  Mark, staying around stage to help pack up, was as nice and approachable as could be.

In sum: Perhaps Loft promoter Kris Youmans gave the best summation when he said, "Nobody knows how to write rock songs like this anymore."  It was fierce, guitar-based rock, very much a product of the early '90s indie scene, but the songs still sound great, and the personal lyrics can still hit home.  R said that even if he'd never heard of them, he would have left this show with every one of their freshly-purchased albums in hand.  They put on a fantastic show, bonded with the audience (congratulating Dallas on the Mavs win), and came across as a talented, fun bunch of guys to hang out with.  Just like they started out, back in 1990 in Chapel Hill.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Metapost: Blogging about blogging

So, there's not going to be any new show reviews this week, so this seems like as good a time as ever to write about some of the ground rules for this project (which will in turn explain why there's no new shows this week).  Well, they're more like guidelines.  "Ground rules" just sounds so formal and stuffy and not rock'n'roll, baby!!

Anyhow.  As you can surely tell from the blog title and our mission statement, this project is an attempt by two guys to see forty live music acts in the eighty days of summer.  (The date of this blog post is Day Number Fourteen, for those of you who like to keep track.)

But there's more to it than that.  Here are a few of the guiding principles of the challenge:

We have to see the shows together.  Currently, N is in Dallas and R is in San Antonio.  So, even if one of us sees a show this week (and R is supposed to live-blog our buddies the Old 97's), it doesn't count toward the total forty.

When possible, we prefer to go to clubs and other venues that we have not previously written about.  Obviously, we are going to have some repeats.  But we're going to try to branch out to as many different places as we can.

Similarly, we're going to see forty different acts this summer.

And when possible, we will prefer to see a local act rather than a national act.  Though, as is obvious from our post about Peter, Bjorn and John, every band counts.

Uh...  That may be it?

Oh, and although we definitely do a lot of drunken band-watching and drunken note-taking, there will absolutely, positively, probably not be any drunk blogging.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

8. Spookeasy at Bryan Street Tavern, 6/3/11

8. Spookeasy, at Bryan Street Tavern.

Is there an echo in here?

So after the Beatles broke up, we went down to Bryan Street Tavern's performance room, where along with about 43 others --- a small but appreciative crowd --- we heard cleverly-named local act Spookeasy.  (We like BST.  No cover, good drinks, spacious outdoor area with giant Jenga.)

Spookeasy is a quartet --- drums (by Tom Bridwell), bass, guitar, with a female vocalist also on the keys.  

We deliberately call frontwoman Stephanie Burns a vocalist, because she doesn't come across as a singer the way "American Idol" would define it.  She approaches the lyrics in a breathy, chanting kind of way, aided by plenty of reverb and echo in the mix. 

Their original material was largely informed by two-chord '60s style power pop, layered with '80s keys and effects.  They also played a chugging, swampy cover of some song --- we didn't catch it --- by Austin band the Black Angels, and broke into a bass-heavy surfy spy riff, covering a Finch song.

R thought this was the best Tom Bridwell performance he'd seen --- out of his element but holding the beat with ease.

The songs alternated between slow-fast tempo, and were loud, short, and to the point.  Traces of Siouxsie and the Banshees, or the Cramps.  Amid the raucous noise, Stephanie gave off a sort of unintended sensuality, clearly the star of the show.  She drawled, "why, thanks, guys," several times at the applause between songs, as if among a few friends (actually, maybe she was; the crowd was clearly familiar with their material).  But she doesn't totally command the spotlight --- she often walked to the back of the stage and knelt down for something, apparently unaware of or unconcerned with the awkward break in the show this caused.

In her own way, she's almost captivating.  Almost.  We wondered what she would sound like without all the effects, and they were laid on thick.  When she spoke between songs, the echo was distracting.  N wanted her to embrace the Pixies influence and scream a bit instead of only chant; R thought the band would benefit from her embracing the Siouxie image and dressing for the spotlight.

In sum: Our feelings for Spookeasy are hard to sum up.  If we're rating them purely on talent, the band is good; but we weren't very entertained.  In fact, we were slightly bored.  It wasn't terrible, but we found ourselves listing things we didn't like about the band rather than sitting back and enjoying the show.  We just didn't come away with a favorable impression, what with the layers of effects and the simple slow-fast beats.  On the other hand, we'd see them again, if only to see how or if they change as a band.

7. A Hard Night's Day at the Barley House, 6/3/11

7. A Hard Night's Day, at the Barley House.

This band is bigger than Cheez-Its.

Lo, and on the eighth day of the Project, we did see our seventh and eighth bands, and the name of the seventh was Hard Night's Day, and it was our second cover band, and it was good.

Actually, we just happened to be in the Barley House; we didn't come specifically to see the band.  We're at the Barley House a lot.  Yes, we're aware we've wasted our lives.

There was no cover charge.  About seventy people were there, ranging from your usual collegiate Barley denizens to several well past middle age, with the latter predominate on the floor.  More youthful patrons were on the patio --- but that doesn't mean the Kids These Days were ignoring the band.  More than one college-type came back outside, exulting to his or her friends that "this band is fantastic!"

A Hard Night's Day is a five piece, with two guitars, keyboard, bass, and drum.  Six people this night, if you count the guy who jumped on stage to shake a tambourine and do some sing-screaming, hitting some impressive high notes (we learned later this was a fellow from other Dallas-based Beatles tribute band From Us To You, joining them for the evening by invitation).

There are some tribute bands that go the whole recreation route pretty slavishly, dressing like the source of their emulation, reciting the same stage banter, and so on.  We had no doubt that a Hard Night's Day could have done that and pulled it off admirably, but the fact is they don't need to do that.  They have no need to dress like the Beatles or wear their haircuts or affect accents, because their superior musicianship puts on enough of a show all by itself.

Not to say the lads weren't connecting with their audience; they made comments from the stage, reacted to audience shout-outs, and generally had fun.  "A round of Jaeger shots will get you three more songs," the bassist jokingly announced at one point.

What we saw was a band that loves the material but doesn't treat it as sacred, and everyone has a lot of fun with it instead of revering it.  The three leads in A Hard Night's Day share or trade vocals, and make great harmonies together.  The set started with some of the early tunes, and got more and more rockin' as the night wore on.  We heard a terrific "Come Together," and were treated to some Paul McCartney/Nigel Tufnel "concentrating-on-my-solo" faces from the bassist.  Then the audience was told, "I'm afraid now it's time for you guys to sing along," and the band broke into "Hey Jude," during which the lyrics were changed to "Take a sad song, and drink some Jaeger" (being playful instead of treating the songs like the Holy Book = good times).  Then, before anyone could recover from the onslaught, someone said "What say we play the b-side to that tune," and the opening notes of "Revolution" began.

And the floor was instantly filled, as dozens of people got up to dance wildly.  This is a band that knows how to get people off their feet and into a great time.

"Revolution" was sung in a sort of affected, high-pitched nasal approximation of the original, which was one of the very few clunker moments of AHND's set.  The band closed with a roaring "Helter Skelter" and --- surprise --- Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."  Paul Averitt's superb blistering guitar work tore these numbers apart and made them like it.

In sum: They may not sing quite as well as the Beatles did in their prime --- but come on, they're much older than the Beatles were in their prime; Paul McCartney can't sing like he could in his prime --- but no one could find fault with A Hard Night's Day's musicianship.  Is it heresy to point out that these stage veterans play their instruments as well or better than the young Liverpudlians could? We don't think so.

Friday, June 3, 2011

6. Psycho Pony at Club Dada, 6/2/11

6. Psycho Pony, at Club Dada.
Are you ready for some country?

Fleeing the rush of the crowd at the Grenada after Peter, Bjorn & John, we went to beloved hole in the wall Club Dada, where Sorta drummer Trey Carmichael's other band, Neil Young tribute Psycho Pony, was playing to a sadly sparse (and older) crowd.

There was no cover charge.  Even so, there were only about 20 people in attendance, making the rather spacious Dada look like an empty warehouse. Too bad, because in a good example of "only the name's the same," the renovated Dada has vastly improved light and sound.  We were both impressed with the clarity of the sound.

The Pony is a five-piece: two guitars (and occasional harmonica), bass, keys, and drums.  Besides the singer, three of the guys add harmony and backup vocals.

We were disappointed to learn we had missed "Ohio" and "Alabama."  Those are two of Neil Young's best songs named after states!

It's obvious, but worth noting: the reason people start tribute bands in because they really enjoy the work of the musician they cover.  And they want to share that enthusiasm.  This band did.  "That's some good stuff right there," the singer remarked happily, almost to himself, after he finished a number.  He did this on three separate occasions.

But you know, that very zealotry can be contagious.  Every tribute band faces a choice: they can cover an artist's songs, interpreting the material through the lens of their own talents and attitudes, or they can reproduce the songs, as living radios on the stage, cranking out a setlist.  Or, of course, they can walk a line between those two strategies.

The approach can mean the difference between a cover band going through the motions or pouring their hearts out in a show.  And Psycho Pony chooses the path of emotion.  The guys clearly love the material, love playing, and they filled that nearly-empty venue with a helluva lot of energy.

The band is very faithful to the material, but not to the extent that they're Xeroxing the catalogue.  Sometimes the singer, Jeff Whittington, "did" Neil Young's voice --- and it was quite a good rendition --- but not always.  (R felt that he was not consciously imitating Young, but rather just singing the material in the way that felt most natural.  Either way, he sounded very much like Young on the albums.)  But then on other songs he'd sound like Roger McGuinn, or have an almost Dylan-esque rumble in his voice (as in "Are You Ready for the Country?").

Of course they played the big hits --- "Heart of Gold," "Old Man," "Cinnamon Girl" --- but as Trey observed, "we go deep into the catalogue, so there's something for everyone."  The bold choice to do those deep cuts definitely paid off, in the sense that their musicianship is all the more impressive the less you know a given song.  You can really listen to a daring bit of guitar work, for example, when you're not taking it for granted.

(Speaking of hits, N would like to go on record here that despite being a fair-to-middling Young fan, he'd never heard of the song "Lotta Love," which was apparently a big Easy Listening hit by someone else in 1979.  N is not excusing his ignorance, but is adamant that "Lotta Love" is not among Neil Young's top ten most famous songs.  So there, R and Trey and that other guy.)

Where were we?  Oh yeah.  Listen, Psycho Pony is a talented band.  All of the guys are polished and have the easy stage grace of veterans.  They tore the lid off of "Cinnamon Girl," though not really hitting that perfect vocal note in the quiet middle bit.  "Down By the River" was superb.  Trey made sure you could hear the drums, the dudes harmonized well, and Brian Miller's lead guitar blazed --- he's a likely standout at future shows.

At the end of the night, a group of about six Mavs fans walked by.  The ladies wanted to keep walking by, but the guys in the group prevailed upon them to go in.  Soon there was some serious toe-tapping, head nodding, and maybe even a bit of innocuous air guitar under the table.  There's hope for rock and roll in this crazy old town yet.

In sum: It's very hard to make someone else's music your own, and we don't say that Psycho Pony makes Shakey's music their own, precisely, but they clearly have the talent and stage awareness to let themselves put their own spin on the songs.  They put on a good show, a quintessential bar band with a relaxed atmosphere.  Easily a good choice for a night out with the guys (if your guys are over thirty).

By the way, Dada was serving late-night bar snacks: four tacos for five bucks.  We got two pork and two barbacoa.  They were very tasty and served with three kinds of sauce, but overloaded with grease and thus fell apart too quickly.  But hey, drunkards can't be choosers, right?

5. Peter, Bjorn & John at the Granada, 6/2/11

5. Peter, Bjorn & John at the Granada.
Oh boy, Slobberbone's coming!

Tickets were $24 at the door.  It wasn't a sold-out crowd but both levels were pretty full.  The crowd was more or less evenly mixed gender-wise.  As usual, the Granada as a venue delivered the goods: great sound, flashy but not distracting lighting, plentiful bar service, etc.  It's almost unfair to compare a show at the Granada with a show at some other venues, because you're going to get bands at their best at the Granada.  And you won't be grumbling about the line at the bar, either.

Anyway.  Peter, Bjorn & John.  They started around 9:20.

Not pictured: infectious hooks, youthful energy.

Neither one of us was familiar with this band when we walked in.  But the Swedish power trio is apparently Big With the Kids --- they wowed a Dallas crowd at the Grenada last night, and it seems they were pleased in turn at the enthusiastic welcome they received.

Despite not knowing the band's music, we were immediately on board.  This was a show with lots of jumping about, infectious shouts of "whoaa-oh!" and the expected call-backs, the drummer twirling sticks over his head, frenetic step-dancing, leaps and stage slides and almost-splits, Pete Townshend-style windmilling. These guys are showmen.

And it's plain that they work hard to put a show together. All three are highly accomplished musicians who work well together, delivering an energetic show that never flagged.

What to call their sound?  Arena pop, maybe --- loud and crunchy.  They're somewhat evocative of the bands that blur the lines of genre and experiment with sound: Flaming Lips, Devo, Sufjan Stevens. But they also recall some of the peppier Brit-pop or even pop-punk: think Housemartins or Buzzcocks.

Want another viewpoint?  Granada owner Mike Schoder said they pleasantly surprised him by being more rock, Clash-like.  This isn't readily apparent, perhaps, but if you think about how the Clash branched out into other genres (most notably in Sandinista!), the comparison is intriguing. 

Sometimes the songs were stoney and sluggish, like a jam band.  Then there'd suddenly be a surf guitar.  Then a guitar would be making whale sounds.  Then we'd all be swaying to a ballad.  Oh, and there was some harmonica, too.

The crowd was loud and zealous, cheering when favorite songs were announced. We could see many people singing along to every word.  In the brief quiet moments between songs, the crowd clapped and stomped rhythmically, chanting "PB&J!" over and over --- not, as one might assume from the smell of doobie permeating the place, because they had the munchies and wanted a sandwich. No, they were chanting the initials of the band, of course.  Shame on you for even thinking that other thing.

No, it was a very nice, appreciative crowd.  Mostly young.  The pit was full of insanely attractive young people wearing very little.

A girl climbed to the stage and danced for a good thirty seconds before being led gently away by a crew member.  It was kind of a shame.  She wasn't a bad dancer.

We felt bad that we were, as our friend T noted, blogging instead of rocking.  This was the kind of show that hits the body more than the brain.

Apparently, they promised to play their hit naked if the Mavs won, but though the win came through, no naked playing came about.

Suddenly, R realized that he was, in fact, familiar with at least one of their songs: "Objects of My Affection."  It was still all new to N, who is more obdurately ignorant of the New Stuff These Days.

At the second encore, the group had a wardrobe change.  Not sure why.  They proclaimed, "We have only a box of CDs, no other merchandise, but we're happy to sign whatever you've got."  Nice people, these Swedes.

In sum:  PB&J are fun, loud, eminently danceable. They're full of energy and talented.  They work hard to put on a show for the kids, and come off as having fun themselves while they're doing it.  We'd see them again any time... but we didn't buy any albums.

Oh, and we figured a lot of dudes were going to be getting lucky afterwards.  So there's that.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

4. Gray, the New Black at Lakewood Bar & Grill, 6/1/11

4. Gray, the New Black, at LBG, following Zach Potts.

66% grayscale.

So Gray, the New Black advertised this show by tweeting to a few Dallas media outlets.  Nothing wrong with that, but they included the hash tag #bestbandindallasipromise.  If you're going to flaunt this kind of hubris, our advice is to actually be the best band in Dallas.  Failing that, you ought at least to have your full band present.  Their website lists three members, but the bassist was nowhere to be found.

They took the stage (as a two-piece) a bit after 11:00 p.m.  The lead singer and guitar wizard, Mike Hamilton, sort of resembles Dallas music icon Don Cento, but in a western shirt with an ironic hole in the knee.  Oh, all right, maybe the hole was just from normal wear and tear.  The drummer appeared to be some species of "peep" or "bro."  But appearances can be deceiving.

Hamilton used all sorts of effects on the guitar, with sometimes quite impressive results.  Noodling away and making use of foot pedals, he made the guitar throb like a bass, chime like a keyboard, or growl like... uh... an electric guitar.  In any case, he was doing his best to prove it's better to be the most interesting, rather than the best, guitar player in the room.  Of course he's by no means unaccomplished, but his willingness to stretch the limits of the instrument to make new sounds was more enjoyable than a cold technical demonstration would have been.

Their songs aren't catchy per se, and I doubt that's what they were going for, but they are toe-tapping and engaging in a sort of pop-prog way.

N thought Gray's sound was somewhat emo, with Hamilton's David Lowry voice and earnest over-enunciated personal lyrics ("I practiced kissing in the bathroom," or "You don't know me any more, a slave to the wind that blows you away") a la Say Anything.  Although it should be noted that Hamilton said from the stage, "We don't have any sad songs."  R thought they were too '80s influenced and nuanced (both of which he meant as compliments) to be strictly emo.  We both heard echoes of early Eels in there.

Song titles which we picked up included "First Train to Brooklyn," "8 mm" and "I Don't Suppose" (which can be heard on their website).

We were enjoying Gray more than we'd enjoyed their opener, Zach Potts, but at 11:23 the Lakewood was down to 40 people attendance.  Apparently a lot more people had come to see Hamilton solo earlier in the evening.

We didn't have a lot to say about the poor drummer.  He was simply overshadowed by Hamilton's adventurous pyrotechnics, and while he certainly wasn't bad, he was also not great. It sucks to be merely good when you're in a band with someone who can showcase.

Late in the show, the two switched instruments, and while it was kinda neat, not all that impressive in the execution. Bottom line, if your trick doesn't improve the show, don't do it, at least not while you're still building a reputation.

R often notes that you can judge a band by the number of musicians who come to see them. we saw just one --- but a good one, Chad Stockslager of King Bucks, a brilliant keyboardist and all-around damn friendly guy.

At a quarter to midnight, the band was still playing away, but we counted only 26 attendees.  As 12:00 approached, less than twenty.  The dwindling audience was sort of a shame, because Gray, the New Black does deserve at least a listen by more people.

In sum: we enjoyed them, especially Hamilton's talent, but we both thought that Gray would benefit from a stronger band sound.  The drummer could stand to make his hands a bit heavier, and perhaps they suffered from the lack of the bass.  Overall, lots of potential but by no means the best band in Dallas.  Sorry, fellows.



We talked outside to Kyle Harris, of the Pull Tabs, who are still recording.

Later on at the Barley House, we ran into Danny Balis and Max Hartman.  The latter said that he's working on a new band with engineer and producer Tom Bridwell.  Exciting!

3. Zach Potts at Lakewood Bar & Grill, 6/1/11

3. Zach Potts, at Lakewood Bar and Grill.
Sorry this is so blurry, Zach.

We entered LBG around 10:00 p.m., in time to catch Zach Potts, the penultimate in a fairly big lineup that night:
  Note the confusingly identical lower case L
and upper case I in the writing.

Cover was $5.

It was a mixed age crowd.  Around 55 people there when we arrived, which turned out to be the peak population that night.  The Lakewood is comfortable kind of dive, with a clear view of the stage, a relaxed atmosphere, and walls festooned with graffiti.  Mostly this latter was made up of proclamations of puppy love or people advertising their web concerns, but we particularly appreciated the sentiment of: "Here In Arms > Jesus."  It would have been nicer to have more than one bartender or some kind of wait staff, though, as it took a while to get drinks.

Zach Potts (who seems to have zero presence on the web) turned out to be two guys on stools playing acoustic guitars. The one on the right in the photo above was the singer, presumably Zach himself.  The guy on the left played rhythm guitar.  (On a purely aesthetic level, we were far from convinced that a tank top and shorts was the best outfit for that guy.)

The crowd was supportive; we heard "I love you, Zach" shout-outs a couple of times.  In addition there was lots of mobile phone video going on. We weren't sure this show warranted it; their look certainly does not, and the duo wasn't exactly blazing up the stage with energy by sitting on those stools.  But hey, the guy's got a fanbase, looks like.

With no online details to fall back on, it's hard to give specific reactions to Zach's material.  Guy with guitar, what can you say?  He seemed to be going for that bare-bones but somehow elusive Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt sound.

He did three covers: "Old Devils," a number by a tattooed fellow named William Elliott Whitmore, which seemed to fit his musical sensibility, at least what we gleaned of it.

Zach also did justice to the second cover, Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel."

We had never heard of Adele's "Rolling In the Deep," but he certainly made it sound like his own.  We both enjoyed the rendition, and the original that immediately followed was R's favorite of the night, remarking, "If he played more like this earlier on, I wouldn't be tired of him now."

At times Zach's sound evoked Steve Earle, a sparser Uncle Tupelo ("we must ultimately compromise and leave our true potential on the shelf"), an angry Chris Isaak ("I was a devil of a man / A man like me is just better left alone"), even Loudon Wainwright on a song he called "Austin's Gonna Have to Wait."

In sum: We didn't feel like we saw the best of Zach Potts.  The songwriting is there, but we thought he'd be better with the right band, some more arrangement, more tempo variation.  He'd do well in a Nashville band that could back up his vision with some musical muscle.