Saturday, July 30, 2011

32. The Will Callers at Club Dada, 7/29/11

32. The Will Callers, at Club Dada.
One of these people may be a Golden God.

So, what we usually do when we are unmoved by a band, as you might know if you've read this blog for a bit, what we do is we go see the O's.  So we left Sons of Hermann and went to Club Dada again.  Man, the O's were good.  We've noted that before, but still.  Man.  Even if they refused to show nipple when their picture was taken.

And after them, Fort Worth band the Will Callers took the stage.  Four fellows made up the archetypal rock setup, bass, drums, guitar, other guitar.  You know the drill.

Their set was country rock '70s style.  Actually, they looked the part too, long '70s hair (except the drummer who had sort of '80s hair), ripped jeans, the stage moves.  Americana, country rock, but more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Old 97's.  R said they reminded him of Sweetwater, the amalgam of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin in the movie "Almost Famous."

The Will Callers showed commendable chops.  The songs weren't exactly earth-shaking, but the guys were talented and clearly put a lot of heart into the show, despite the fact that most people were there to see the O's.  We got the feeling they'd play equally hard for ten or a thousand people.  The vocals --- a little bit Steve Earle, a little bit Robbie Fulks, very Southern --- and outlaw country guitar riffs were particularly good, and we liked their energy.

They would have done well on a daylight stage, the opening act of a large festival, thousands of beer-soaked classic rock lovers cheering them on.  As it was, we imagined them playing a series of bars across south Texas.  As R said, "There's a bar somewhere in College Station that should be paying these guys a lot of money to play every week."

In sum: Solid country rock infused with a '70s vibe.  We liked the energy and the professionalism.

31. Fox and the Bird at Sons of Herman Hall, 7/29/11

31. Fox and the Bird, at Sons Of Hermann Hall.

Anyone else want to jump up here and join us?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, on Day Sixty-Four?

Paying ten dollars apiece at the top of the stairs at the venerable Sons of Hermann Hall, we went to go hear the old-timey, revivalist, neo-swing sounds of Fox and The Bird.  There were around 325 people in attendance.  And there were seven people up on stage, playing a variety of instruments: guitar, banjo, fiddle, drums, ukulele, perhaps a lute, accordion, even some kind of thumb piano or something. We aren't instrument experts.

We met Philip Peeples of the Old 97's there, and admired his Working Class Beard.

Starting with their self-titled theme song, Fox and the Bird blended both male and female voices into folksy harmonies over revivalist folk.  Sometimes the singer affected a kind of high nasal bluegrass twang, but thankfully this did not happen often.  They played well, but both of us found them a bit bland, somehow.  Yes, there were a lot of people on stage playing a lot of notes, but there was an energy lacking.  To engage us they needed a high-stepping shuffling beat, but this failed to materialize.  Instead we got a lot of the same kind of low-key folk.  Even the trumpet, when it came, was not the blaring foxtrot-inducing, jump-jive-an'-wail that we had hoped.

We lost what little interest we had when shushing began.  One of the female singers was about to start a solo, with lute, and apparently the audience was talking or something.  Being shushed at concerts is one of our pet peeves (one time we were shushed at a Leonard Cohen concert and nearly got into an altercation).  We have no idea whether the band or their zealous fans started this particular instance, of course, but look, our position is: you have the mike.  Sing loud, and sing something interesting.  If you're engaging, we'll stop talking.  Until then, we paid to be here, so play on.

Of course your mileage may vary.  As noted, there were over 300 people there, about half female, and about a third with hipster beards.  Clearly this is the kind of music liked by people who like this sort of thing.  Perhaps if you enjoy the sort of musical stylings such as are featured on the Garrison Keillor show, you will find Fox and the Bird to be the bee's knees, the cat's pyjamas, etc.

In sum: Though Fox and the Bird showed themselves to be very good at what they do, we found it to be the same thing repeatedly, and not too engaging in the first place.  Sometimes more people means less creativity: the band leans on the crutch of its ability to play lots of notes.  We felt FatB sacrificed songcraft on the altar of revivalism.  Nothing wrong with revivalism per se, of course; the Squirrel Nut Zippers, for example, are revivalists with fun, catchy songs.  We don't demand that bands play fun and catchy material, either.  Tom Waits, Palace, and Leonard Cohen, for example, move you with the power of the dark.  But FatB are neither fun nor dark, just rather bland.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

30. White Denim at the Granada Theater, 7/23/11

30. White Denim, at the Granada.

False advertising: note total lack of white denim

The headliner of Gorilla vs Bear fest, White Denim, got about half an hour to perform thanks to Preteen Zenith's late start. A classic foursome, they played loud bluesy post-punk Rock And Roll.  No, really loud.

Seriously, it was loud.

Assured, clearly at home on stage and working well together, White Denim played frenetic New Rock, sounding a lot like an Americana-fueled Foo Fighters.  They had more chops than a Chinese restaurant (zing!).  Loud shouting urgent nasal vocals carried along and under thundering walls of brawny percussion.  Fast blues-based guitar riffs, repeated to build a sense of urgency and power.  Our ears were bleeding, but in a good way.

It's worth noting that despite this music being the loudest thing since Krakatoa, the sound was not muddled or distorted.  The intricate basslines and the pounding drums were clear and crisp.  Granada's sound guy really knows what he's doing.

Over the course of this Project, we've seen a lot of acts that played genres we wouldn't normally have been interested in.  One of the lessons of these shows is that the real power of music is the ability to just be so transcendent that it doesn't matter whether you "get it," but whether it affects you or not.  White Denim doesn't play R's genre of choice, but he was moved by their vigor and dynamic energy.  N, typically a fan of Snarling Punk Stuff, was more in his element and certainly enjoyed the music, but unfortunately the briefness of the set, the lateness of the hour, and the cochlear-melting volume made for a less than stellar showcase for White Denim.

In sum: White Denim is a tight-knit, talented band with a lot of ferocious energy.  A fine example of punk-based indie rock.  We didn't feel entirely at home with the loudness.  And as you know, if it's too loud...

Your blog authors: left to right, N and R.

(By the way, a Google image search for "two old guys" resulted in a depressing amount of pictures of guys our actual age.  Thanks a lot, young people.  You just wait.)

29. Preteen Zenith at the Granada Theater, 7/23/11

29. Preteen Zenith, at the Granada.

So remember how in our last post, we said we headed back to the Gorilla vs. Bear fest, which "should have been" going strong?  It turned out that Tim DeLaughter's new project, the pedophilic-sounding Preteen Zenith, had been setting up behind a curtain for about 25 or 30 minutes by the time we got there.  We scrambled to the balcony and, drinks in hand, waited an additional ten or maybe 15 more minutes before anything actually happened.

By this time the @GranadaTheater tweets, which were being displayed on the screens in real-time, were getting snarkier and more impatient: "There better be a fucking life size space ship on stage when that curtain goes up."  "By the time the curtain goes up they'll be Adult Zenith."  "Is Tim forming yet another band back there?" etc. 

But!  Then!  Suddenly!

A silent movie was projected on the screen!  Tim and some other dude, dressed as extras from "Deadwood" and wearing Old Timey Mustaches, ran around in some greenery.  It was largely incomprehensible, and by "incomprehensible" we mean "not interesting enough to invite the trouble it would take to figure it out."  This artsy short film was too much for our impatient friend T, who left.

Too bad for him, because right after the film ended, it was laser and music time!

White lights! Colored lasers! Red pants!

In a burst of confetti for the photoreceptors, Preteen Zenith stood bathed in white light and smoke and splattered with red and green lasers that careened all across the Granada's walls, ceiling, and audience.  Red and green: festive colors for Christmas, which it was by the time they came out.  Ha!  We kid, of course.

Where can I get one of those laser disco balls?

There was Tim, prancing about in a little green tunic and red pants, like a color-blind Peter Pan, with five other musicians, anonymous (in the sense of being totally obscured by lighting, not in the sense that their names are unknown) behind him. The music was layered, but not the layered high and melodic chorals of Polyphonic Spree.  This was bass-heavy, with droning synths, loud piano, and modulated guitars. The drums of Jason Garner were a standout, forceful and building a solid foundation for the sometimes precarious tower of noise.

It occurred to us that Tim would do very well writing a stage musical. Maybe a big concept musical a la "Tommy."  Perhaps if there were a book to this concert, it would seem less chaotic. 

Indeed, R thought of Preteen Zenith as a natural evolution from where the Spree left off, a sort of combination Tripping Daisy and musical theater. He thought it had more potential than N did, who found it all a bit reliant on the light and sound, missing the fury.  It might have been interesting to see them cut the lights and do something a capella or maybe with just the piano.  Just for a change-up, to showcase the melodies that were hiding in that grandiloquence.

Taking all into account, it was a spectacle... but not spectacular.  Grand musical theater like the Who, but the week-old Preteen Zenith did not show anything close to the songwriting chops that would justify such a visual excess.

After a late start, they began to run long.  Still they played on even as fans began to shout for the next act, White Denim.  Eventually the curtain was dropped in front of them before they could launch into yet another sparkly explosion of instrumentation.  The Granada had spoken: it was White Denim's turn now.

In sum: Fun, but not an amazing debut.  And marred by the fact that Tim DeLaughter over-reached.  The extended wait time, the meaningless film and the refusal to cede the stage was frankly rude to the fans, the venue, and White Denim.  Poor form.

28. The Old 97's at Rangers Ballpark, 7/23/11

28. The Old 97's at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

So then we took a break from Gorilla vs. Bear to rush over to the Rangers Ballpark, where we caught the last two innings of the game in which Dallas' favorite baseball team went from being down in the ninth to a 5-4 victory of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Not pictured: mom, apple pie.

Everyone (except N, who hates sports, crowds, and being instructed when to holler) was overjoyed at this turn of events, and it certainly made for a pleasant atmosphere for the Old 97's concert after the game.  If Dallas had lost, it's probably fair to say fewer people would have attended, or looked so pleased at standing around for another hour and half.

As it was, there was no looting.

Now, the Old 97's.  Before you proceed, it's probably a good idea for you, the reader, to go back and read what we had to say about the Rhett Miller show we attended, exactly a month ago.  Just so you know where we're coming from regarding these guys.  All that stuff applies here.  Grew up with Rhett, know the band, love them, they can do no wrong.

The other half of that sign says "Mex."

If you're familiar with the Old 97's, you know the energy they put into their shows.  They make more sound that you'd expect four middle-aged guys to make; Ken shreds, Philip pounds, Murray's yodeling, frenetic vocals are a perfect complement to Rhett's voice.  Rhett himself is a consummate showman, always bantering with the crowd, telling a few lines about a new song or a story behind an old one, rousing jingoistic local patriotism by mentioning Texas and Dallas every chance he gets.  An Old 97's show is always a show and frankly, never a disappointment.

Rhett dedicated the new song "Manhattan (I'm Gone)" to "a team the Rangers defeated last playoff season, the Yankees."  Murray provided his country-pone vocals on the cover "Rolling Stone From Texas," prefacing it by proudly admitting, "we're all rednecks where I come from."

The sounded fantastic, at peak, end-of-tour form.  Listening to these road veterans perform reminds you instantly and palpably how much of a gap there is between them and an up-and-coming band that doesn't do it for real. Seriously, if you're in a band and you're unsure how to do bantering (or marketing), come to an Old 97's show and take notes.

We were very pleased to see some young people in the crowd, college guys and even under-teens, singing along with all the words from not only fresh hits like "Every Night is Friday Night," but from the newest album.

After the well-received "A State of Texas," and the pleasant surprise of a cover of REM's "Driver 8," the band launched into the obligatory (but still sing-along powerful) "Big Brown Eyes."  We would have stayed, but it was time to leave the Grand Theatre and head back to the Granada Theater, where Gorilla vs. Bear was still going strong.  Or should have been, anyway.

In sum: Best band out of Texas.  One of the best bands currently performing.  Sure, we're biased --- but we're also right.

27. Pure X at the Granada, 7/23/11

27. Pure X, at the Granada.

Next up: Pure Y.

Gorilla vs. Bear continued with Austin's Pure X, a quartet who spent their set bathed in red and blue light and some artificially-induced fog.  Drums, guitar, keys, and bass, plus liberal use of modulators all combined to create an ethereal, shoegazing atmosphere.  The crowd was slightly larger than it was during Sunset's set, and stood around in mostly subdued but quite appreciative attention. 

Their trancey, echo-laden set recalled My Bloody Valentine and the broodier proponents of the emo genre.  Slow, low singing with held notes that grew to shouts, mostly lost in the mix of slow bass and drum.  The occasional burst of grinding guitar.  The vocals were echo-laden, backed with high lilting "oooooooh"s.  Clearly the singer was expressing feelings of some sort, feelingly.

It was after-party make-out music for the hip young set, and we mean that in a good way.  Scenesters should appreciate the sly wink of their name and the party connotations.  A dark air conditioned room packed with friends seemed the perfect location to hear them. 

R said, "A girl I knew a while back would have bought their T-shirt."  He thought for a bit, then added, "Come to think of it, I might buy their T-shirt."

Pure X don't play N's genre of choice by any means, but they held his attention by being laid-back and musically interesting.  They didn't force an atmosphere on the venue, as some bands try to do; they just sat and played and let the music create it.  He appreciated what they were doing, even if it wasn't for him.

In sum: Mood-evoking lo-fi indie rock with sombre and earnest (if largely unintelligible) lyrics.  Instruments warped with modulators, vocals echoing.  Drenched in effects. But in a way that worked (Spookeasy could learn a lot from these guys).  People who dig the Cure-influenced ethereal stuff will appreciate Pure X.

26. Sunset at the Granada, 7/23/11

26. Sunset, at the Granada.

So, on Saturday (Day Fifty-Eight) we went to what was possibly Dallas' most hyped summer musical event: Gorilla Vs. Bear Festival.  Of course, it started at six p.m., so we thought it should more accurately be referred to as a "showcase" rather than a "festival" (which word conjures up visions of an all-day, multi-stage event), but what the hell, right?  Tickets were $30.  It was hosted by that local paragon of excellence, the Granada Theater.

We've talked about how much we enjoy this venue before, but it bears repeating.  The first thing that hit us as we walked into the 300-plus-strong crowd was how wonderfully cool it was.  They had installed a much more powerful A/C system, and management was rightly proud of it.  Some patrons were complaining that it was "chilly," but those people had apparently forgotten that it was seven hundred degrees outside and that crowded rooms get hot and stuffy quickly.  We were very appreciative of the temp. As usual the sound was loud, clear, and well-balanced; the staff, from the door guys to the bartenders, were uniformly friendly even as the lines started to form; and the food was good and cheap.  Lots of bar options, lots of bar staff.  People who like to host music fests: this is how to do it right.

So yeah, Sunset.  The band.  Originally from Austin, apparently, a trio of young fellows with two male vocals.  Loud power pop mixed with garage indie rock.  At least one of them seemed to be at home playing more than one instrument: they started with guitar, drum, and keyboard, but there were a few songs where the keys were ditched for bass, and someone also played the organ.

Next on the bill: Twilight.

A brief but energetic set included some very interesting noises: guitar shrieking, bass roaring, a drone suddenly punctuated by a rhythmic drumbeat.  The music was raucous, but like smooth jazz, there was a subtle and intriguing interplay between instruments that showed serious craft behind the rock.

All three of the guys were energetic and clearly were enjoying their time onstage.  R loved the drummer, commenting that he reminded him of Animal from The Muppets.
The band finished its last song and called out rather cryptically, "We used to be called Sunset!"

In sum: Crunchy and sloppy-sounding indie rock, but made by thoughtful, talented youths.  Music for the kids, driving around in mom's car on a hot night, drinking dad's beer, wishing they had a girl but not really minding because the music flows through their veins like a confidence drug.  We dug it.  As R tweeted, if they used to be called Sunset, we used to like a band called Sunset.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

25. Seryn at Club Dada, 7/16/11

 25. Seryn, at Dada.

The serene siren sounds of Seryn.

The last band on Saturday's bill at Club Dada was Denton's own Seryn, which came to prominence when it was named Favorite Act at this year's SxSW by Paste.  Seryn is, for want of a better description, an orchestral folk-rock indie band, boasting five members and at least two hipster-outdoorsman beards.  They are precious enough to list themselves as "Papa Bear," "Baby Bear," and "Goldilocks" on their Facebook page, play a lot of instruments, and seem to eschew genre labels.

This was probably the most popular band of the night.  All the acts had their fans, but when Seryn came on, the area around the stage really got packed.  There was also lots of drunken screaming, those incoherent shouts you hear at a certain kind of show which signify vague inexpressible approval, from a crowd obviously longing to be a part of Seryn's musical journey.

R characterized Seryn's set as harmony-heavy folk-rock, a sort of CSNY with violin, cello, and banjo.  There were long slow crashing waves of sound, crested by cymbal percussion, and over it all, long drawn-out syllables of vocalization that we didn't understand very well, if indeed it was made up of words.  When the vocals were slowed down a bit, they sounded a bit like Iron & Wine. 

All the members of Seyrn were clearly enjoying themselves, and everyone demonstrated strong musical proficiency.  Chelsea Bohrer seemed to be responsible for a disproportionately large slice of their particular sound --- metallic percussion and high scraping violin strings.  Their music is orchestral, yes, but energetic and fun; danceable indie-folk.  Certainly, the crowd ate it up.  We were not drawn in, however.  Maybe it was four-bands-in-a-row fatigue; maybe the artsy lavishness of it all made it unappealing.  Whatever the reason, we acknowledged Seryn's talents and stood back, slightly bored.

In sum: Judging by the crowd they attracted, Seryn has certainly benefited from the Paste accolade, but the flip side of hype is expectations raised too high.  They weren't as amazing as the hype has it (but who is?); indeed, they're an impressive group of musicians.  But what they make together seemed unremarkable to us.  We weren't dying to explore their sound, and likely won't go out of our way to seek it out.

24. The Orbans at Club Dada, 7/16/11

24. The Orbans, at Dada.

Someone didn't get the black T-shirt memo.

The third set of the night was The Orbans, well-regarded Dallas five-piece centered around singer-songwriter Peter Black.  (Well, usually they have five members, but tonight the keyboardist was sick or something.)  It was at this point of the project that N and R differed more sharply in opinion than usual.  Obviously, we are not a unified hive mind even in the best of times, but our tastes typically converge.  Here, perhaps it's fair to give two distinct impressions rather than melding them into one narrative.  Also, hey, novelty. 

Impressions of N, cynic:
The Orbans come off as polished but lacking energy, like a watered down Old 97's.  Peter looks like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day.  "Like a Liar," one of their more sprightly songs, could be Chris Isaak on a particularly sleepy day.  It was cute that they segued into a few lines of Tom Petty's "Yer So Bad" at the end.  Despite having some very avid fans, they made no attempt at crowd connection: no banter, no eye contact.  At the end of their set they filed off stage without a word.  Were they bored with their material, or indifferent to their audience?  It must be added that it was quite ridiculously hot in Club Dada at this point, and garbage was piling up everywhere due to the crowds and lack of wait staff, so N went outside to cool down (yes, that's right, outside to cool down) and missed several songs. (When he came back, the temp was more manageable and the garbage was being cleared, so Dada did manage to take control eventually.)  So to be fair to the Orbans, it wasn't the best showcase for their music, especially right at the heels of the musical firebrand Ryan Becker.

Impressions of R, dreamer:
The Orbans were the most-polished act of the night so far. They seemed more ready for commercial success and it's not inconceivable to imagine them being big.  Peter Black has good, clean vocals, with lyrics that are accessible but not trite.  All of the songs were strong, not a clunker in the set.  The band presents itself as earnest and writerly, like The Wallflowers and Lone Justice.  There's a girl in high school right now who wants a convertible Mustang, a pearl snap shirt, and a good boyfriend, who doesn't know it yet but this is her favorite band.  

In sum: The Orbans are definitely polished and capable, on that we agree.  N was underwhelmed by what he felt was a lack of energy, while R focused on the strong songwriting and musical chops, as well as their stage poise.

23. Ryan Thomas Becker & the Last Joke at Club Dada, 7/16/11

23. Ryan Thomas Becker & the Last Joke, at Dada.

Why can't we be friends?

Singer/songwriter Ryan Thomas Becker, backed with a three-piece band billed as The Last Joke, was second up on the night of endless rock at Dada.

We both liked his material immediately.  Guitar driven southern rock with strong lyrics; he came on like a young, harder-rockin' Tom Waits from Texas.  He's clearly a skilled guitar player and he uses his strong, yodeling voice to great advantage.  The band was solid too, and knew just when to hold back and when to unleash the sonic wall of deep-fried rock.

RTB's music showed a wide array of influences merged into one Southern pot.  A howling, yelping "Seek Fire, Anime Kids" came off like punk band Titus Andronicus, while the slower, grinding "Tom Petty Summer" (one of many covers of friends of RTB's that night) sounded more like Smog.  Or he would chant story-based lyrics, like the Hold Steady, to a churning guitar riff and pounding drums.   Different pace, but the same blistering intensity.

Both of us independently noted that RTB has a very interesting, engaging stage persona.  Between the songs he named the covers or told brief stories about them, but he mumbled rapidly and slurred his words so much, his hands flying all Tourettic from his mouth to over his head to his guitar, that we understood little of what he was saying.  Judging by his snarling, gruff singing, one might think he would be surly or brusque in person, but he actually came off as affable and pleasant, thanking the audience several times for their interest with a wide smile.

At one point, after the audience did not respond with appreciable enthusiasm to something he said, he chuckled to himself and said only, "Boo-urns?"  That sly, self-effacing sort of comment is what made his stage persona, while somewhat enigmatic, also charming.

During slower songs, the intensity of RTB's vocals if anything increased, as he rolled his eyes, yodeled, stomped his feet, and twisted his mouth into grins and grimaces like a Pentecostal preacher possessed by the spirit, or a snake handler going into religious spasmatic throes, only RTB was handling not reptiles but twisting, spitting songs --- not as deadly as rattlesnakes but just as mesmerizing.

Sometimes he hit the mike with his nose.

Near the end of the set, the ballad "No We Can't Be Friends" was sung alternately by RTB and the rhythm guitarist, whose dry hoarse voice was somewhat reminiscent of Trey Johnson of Sorta's. RTB leaped and stomped so much at this point that he dropped to his back, where he played a bit more from that prone position before rising.  As RTB exhorted the crowd to sing the bar-room chorus of "No, we can't be friends," R remarked that this would be the Google Plus theme song.  (Topical humor!)

The closer, "He'll Have To Go," the Jim Reeves/Elvis number, was putty in RTB's hands as he made the honky tonk weeper his own, and left many folks wanting more.

In sum: Rousing original songs that stood easily with choice covers, excellent musicianship, very high energy, strong stage charisma.  N thought it was the best set of the show by far.  Later in the night, listing the acts for friends who weren't there, whenever we mentioned RTB, there was a very positive response by all who had heard him.  R bought the CD.  Ryan Thomas Becker, highly recommended.

22. Bravo, Max! at Club Dada, 7/16/11

22. Bravo, Max!, at Club Dada.

On Saturday night it was Day Fifty-One of the Project.  It was also the one-year anniversary of Deep Ellum Outdoor Market, and five bands played at Club Dada.  For ten dollars, we saw four of them and ate some free cake.  The event was very successful.  There seemed to be over 250 people there at all times.  This night brought us to a total of seven shows in two days.  Our notes looked a little ragged at the end of the evening, I'm afraid, so bear with us.

The first band was indie-folk rock band Bravo, Max! (Punctuation as in original.)

Best Dallas sextet named after a children's book.

We arrived just as Bravo, Max! took the stage, six musicians (though their website lists only five) who between them play drums, guitar, bass, harmonica, accordion, tambourine and what appeared to be a Lowebro.  They presented a rather motley group, perhaps as if the affable lead singer of a laid-back folk band accidentally fronted a Pearl Jam cover band and brought along his geek-chic friend and her accordion.  But they worked well together.

They started off with an almost Pixies-like sound, all yelping lyrics and searing guitars, but soon settled into a sort of heavy Uncle Tupelo.  The indie college sound meets folk rock.  A slight reliance on a constant clatter of percussion, from tambourine to handclaps.  Their big song "Hailey" was enjoyable.  The next number, a somehow off kilter cover of "Cecilia," had singer Johnny Beauford sounding a bit like Paul Simon, but it lacked the fun and exuberance of the original.

The band certainly had its share of fans who showed great enthusiasm.  While we liked what they were doing, we were not exactly blown away, sharing the opinion of Some Guy at the bar that the band seemed as if they were just going through the motions on stage.  R had heard a lot of good things about them, so thought perhaps he had gone in with expectations too high.  We both enjoyed the last song, which had an energy to it that until that point seemed to have been dampened.

In sum: We liked Bravo, Max! but did not come away new fans. Perhaps we did not see them at their best, in the hot, under-staffed Dada which seemed to be straining to accommodate the large crowd.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

21. Three Dollar Crunch at the Barley House, 7/15/11

21. Three Dollar Crunch, at the Barley House.

What is hip?  Those shorts.

And so to wrap up the evening as it began, we watched the rest of Three Dollar Crunch's set at the Barley House.  It was free and there were anywhere from 25 to 40 people there paying attention to the band over the course of the night.

This band is a funkified blues jam band from Fort Worth, consisting of either five or six players that night (one person seemed to have left the stage partway through.)  Tonight, it was keyboard, drums, guitar, bass, sax, and trumpet.

You got to funkifize.  In a line.

Decked out in shorts and frat-boy-approved footwear, Three Dollar Crunch provided the Barley with a good three hours of granola funk and blue-eyed swamp blues.  While the jam band experience is not our thing, N was appreciative of the energy they put into their show.  R liked it as well, but thought he might have appreciated it even more when he was back in high school, in the spring of life when young men's tastes run toward laid-back party jams that impress the babes.

All of the lads in Three Dollar Crunch play very well (and some of them play several instruments with equal skill).  We were astonished in turn by the lead guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer, though the entire band interacted seamlessly.  They presented themselves as an assured, well-oiled msuical machine.  In comparison with their playing, we weren't as impressed with the vocals, which strained to reach the world-weary, whiskey-drenched growl of the greats who make up the roots of funk and blues, and were largely imitative.  Of course most of that can be chalked up to the youth of the guys in the band.

The music veered from Tower Of Power-like funk to ZZ Top-style texas blues, even veering into keyboard-driven pop-jazz that was reminiscent of Traffic.  The crowd was appreciative; we saw some serious drunk white boy chicken dancing, that kind of loose-limbed arm-flapping shuffle that is the highest of praises an inebriated college lad can give his musical hero.

When they finished up, we started the crowd yelling, 'Play one more!"  They seemed reluctant, but then the keyboardist said they would, if we all yelled "Fuck."  So we all gave loud voice to the profanity, and true to their word, the band treated us to a grinding cover of "Jesus Just Left Chicago," lasting over 15 minutes.

In sum: This was the most entertaining band of the evening.  If we were going to hire one of the three bands from tonight to play at a party, Three Dollar Crunch would be the one.  The energy was high, the musicianship was exceptional, and the guys looked like they were having a great time.  Would we rush out to buy their CD, if they had one out?  No, but they are a terrific bar band with a funky punch.

20. Johnny Tone & Club Wood at The Arcade Bar, 7/15/11

20. Johnny Tone & Club Wood, at the Arcade Bar.

L to R: Club Wood, 9 Iron, Wedge, Putter.

So!  After Le Cure wowed us with a Plainsong, we saw the Last Dance, went down Fascination Street, and were Gone!  (A few sly Cure references for you dancing goth girls back at LBG.  You know who you are.  Call me.)

We meandered over to The Arcade Bar, where there was no cover and Dixie-jazzy-blues band Club Wood was playing.  Actually, according to the whiteboard near the door, they were billed as "Johnny Tone & Club Wood," naming the guitarist and singer (and, one assumes, driving force) of the band.  But the group itself is named after the drummer, Mike Wood.  And that just about exhausts that subject.

We haven't blogged about The Arcade Bar before, so here are some impressions.  First, we had to literally walk right through the band to enter the place.  (That's the entrance, behind the saxophonist, in the photo above.)  It's a small place and there's no other place to play, but it seemed a little bit disrespectful somehow.

Second, there was a mild but distinct odor of pee in the place.   Oddly, this odor was not to be found in the shiny-clean bathroom.

Third, there was free popcorn for all, and the bartender gave us some bar mix on request.  That's a plus, right?  Probably it was clean.

As for the music: there were less than thirty people in attendance.  Most of the people watching were in the back nine age-wise, but there were several young faces as well.

Club Wood is one of those unclassifiable acts in terms of genre.  They were playing smooth jazz with a definite Dixieland, New Orleans tinge while we were there; but they gave constant hints that they might be equally at home in several other genres.  There were hints of pop and blues in every song, and at one point they played an Amy Winehouse cover, transformed into a jazzy, slow torch number.  It wasn't even "neo-swing," which evokes more raucous acts like The Squirrel Nut Zippers, which Club wood sounded nothing like; mostly what they came off as, really, was a jazz band steeped in blues and AOR.

With their Mad Hatter hats and fun, hipster stage presence (at one point Tone playfully admonished the audience, "That song is over, so you should clap.  That's how it works.  We work, you applaud"), they seemed fit for bigger venues, where they might really unleash the genre-spanning energy that seemed to be wanting to get out as they sat and played New Orleans jazz repertoire.  They would do well among a younger crowd, especially if they grew ironic mustaches.

In sum: They are clearly very talented musicians.  We enjoyed their jazzy riffs and the knowing, winking connection Tone forged with his sparse audience.  We were not as entertained when they slowed things down and played more romantic material.  To us, the reason you see a throwback band like this is the same reason you see a cover band, or listen to the radio: to be energized, and surprised, by the familiar.  "Oh, they played that song!  I love that one!" or "That's a fresh spin on an old sound!"  Bands like this are musical parties, there primarily to galvanize rather than evoke mood.  The slow soft stuff tends to be appealing only to the die-hard fan of the act or genre in question.  Of course, your mileage may vary.

19. Le Cure, Lakewood Bar & Grill, 7/15/11

19. Le Cure, at Lakewood Bar & Grill.

It is Day Fifty.  Like Hank Hill's posterior, this project is a little behind.  But we remain sanguine that we will finish in triumph.

We'll just say this up front: this was an evening of watching bands that were talented but not exactly our cup of tea.  So read the corresponding, brief, reviews with the caveat: they're great if you like that sort of thing.

The first band was Le Cure, a Cure cover band, at Lakewood Bar & Grill.  The cover was seven dollars, and that included a free bar's worth of fog from the fog machine.  About seventy-five people were there, and LBG isn't huge; it was a fairly crowded scene.  The atmosphere was mostly laid-back and happy, the ages skewed to the middle and up, and only a few goth-type costumes in sight.

Jumping someone else's train.

The band dresses the part; at least singer Mark Hernandez does, makeup and scraggly black hair in his face and sounding very much like Robert Smith.  The band is skilled; they sounded pretty much like we expected the Cure to sound.  Maybe they're even better than the original at this point.  Since neither of us has seen the Cure in concert, we're only going by the studio recordings, but to us they seemed to nail it.

The crowd was appreciative, responding to the more energetic numbers well; when Le Cure launched into the hit "Pictures Of You," the area in front of the stage instantly filled up with exuberant, gleeful dancers.  (At this point we noticed that a certain type of woman will dance to a Cure cover band shamelessly, if not entirely appealingly.) 

In sum: Le Cure is a fun night out.  The vocals are spot on, the band quite talented.  They use lights and fog to create a certain atmosphere that is undoubtedly appropriate for their audience.  The trouble is that neither R nor N are a part of that natural audience.  When Le Cure played songs we knew, we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit; but they play a lot of material that is not familiar to anyone who is not a solid Cure fan.  We watched only the first half of their show; perhaps they loaded the second set with songs more recognizable to the casual listener.  In any case, Le Cure seems to know exactly how to play to their audience of fans, so more power to them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

18. Zach Balch at Club Dada, 7/7/11

18. Zach Balch, at Dada.

Smooth vocals, background-ready melodies.

The last act in our count on day Forty-Two was Americana alt-country singer from Denton Zach Balch, with his band (keyboards, bass, drum).  

The vocals were very pleasant, earnest, and clear; the players are solid and capable.  They had a decent Wilco-as-bar-band vibe going.

There was little to no energy or infectious stage presence.  Zach seemed to be proficient enough in the songwriting department but, his work not being familiar to us, it did not immediately catch our attention. Perhaps if we were to hear these songs repeatedly on the radio we would like them well enough.

Friend T, there to see Tiger Darrow, offered his opinion: "It's a bit Counting Crows."  We agreed; but a blander Counting Crows, or perhaps a tired Train.

About four songs into the set, Zach did a few new songs with only the keyboards to accompany his voice and guitar.  It did not make it more interesting, and the lyrics, more discernible at that point, were cliched.   Friend T made an analogy to literature: there needs to be conflict in order to keep the reader interested.  In Zach's songs, we heard no edge, no problem to be solved, no drama.

In sum: Zach Brach is not bad at what he does.  His band is competent and he has a great voice; did we mention that?  But we weren't interested in the songs, there was no energy, it was uninspiring, and we didn't want to keep listening.   Sorry, but in the competition for least impressive Zach of this project, we have a new front runner.


Later on we caught the last few songs on an O's set at the Common Table. we caught some of O's show. We've already reviewed them, so they don't count toward out Official Band Count, but perhaps we haven't yet fully expressed our admiration for the band, and that needs to be redressed.  R made the comment in our tweet feed, worth repeating, that "the O's play more instruments with their feet better than you with your hands, mouth, and any other parts you care to name combined."  N noted that the difference between the show we'd just seen and this one was instantly clear: two guys in a small room with acoustic instruments created more energy, joy, emotion in one song than that entire four piece band did in their whole set.  Their cover of Roger Miller's "Dang Me" was a treat, and they also paid homage to Sorta with a cover.

17. Tiger Darrow at Club Dada, 7/7/11

17. Tiger Darrow, at Club Dada.

Okay, so last post could be fairly boiled down to "Hey, you kids, get off of my lawn and stop listening to that techno hippity hop, it's just noise, this country's going to hell and why do kids wear their pants so low?"  This time around, we turn a much more appreciative, less crotchety eye toward the younger generation.  This show was the opposite of the Glitch Mob, thankfully.

Tiger Darrow, a neo-folky singer-songwriter, took the stage at Dada armed only with an acoustic guitar (and sometimes a cello), plus the bazooka in her talent arsenal: her beautiful, powerful-beyond-her-years voice.  She was joined by her uncle Allan Hayslip, of Bonedome, who provided sturdy, jazzy basslines that fit the material well.  And he looked like he was having fun.

There was a five dollar cover.  About fifteen people were in attendance. The sound was fantastic once again, thanks to sound wiz Chris Carmichael.

One of these people is not a grumpy old man.

Tiger, who graduated high school this year and is young enough to have recorded a song in which she looks back fondly on being ten years old, has a grown-up voice.  She sings like Regina Spektor, or a wordier, less morose Sarah Jaffe.  She hit the high notes with ethereal purity, but also showed plenty of lung power for the heartfelt, accusatory lines of her personal lyrics. The multisyllable-jam-packed lyrics of her tales of love lost, found, remembered, and resented came rapidly and easily off her tongue, sounding like Norah Jones on speed.  And then she'd slow it down, bringing that beautiful Spektor-esque croon into a sad ballad.

She showed a playful, fun stage presence, chatting to the audience about whatever pops into her head, introducing one song, for example, with:

"I have two albums for sale over there and this song is off of one of them and it has a video --- faaancy! --- except not really, ha ha, because I made it myself, it's stop motion animation, you can see it on YouTube, okay, here's the song."

Much like her lyrics, rapidly and all in one breath. Yes, it could have been off-putting and made her seem ditzy, but her honest, unassuming delivery just made her seem friendly and, well, young and earnest.

Cello, how are you?

Later in the set, Tiger broke out the skinny electric cello that was propped in the corner, and played a very admirable cover of "These Boots Are Made for Walking" (though she's just a bit too young to really pull off the sultry-corny aspect of it) and her own "Machines," which sounded like it could have come from Kate Bush's early material.

Tiger's stage presence kind of reminded R of a young Rhett Miller, back when we'd see him developing his craft down in Deep Ellum when we were in high school, 24 years ago. Damn we're old, but dammit, we're old hipsters.  Important distinction!

A final note in the "talented-beyond-her-years" trope: on Tiger's second CD, she plays cello, bass, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, violin, ukelele, and tambourine, and did the producing and mixing herself.  Not too shabby for one of the Kids These Days.

In sum: The talent and energy coming from the stage was so palpable that from the first song we knew Tiger Darrow was someone to watch.  We each bought a CD after the show, and we both got our CD signed.  There's no question that Tiger is amazingly talented: with her personal lyrics, knockout voice, and her friendly, welcoming stage presence, if she keeps this up, there's no reason she shouldn't be huge.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

16. The Glitch Mob at Trees, 7/6/11

16. The Glitch Mob, at Trees.

So then we went to Trees, which is known for the metal shows and is Big with the Kids.  We knew we were going to see an electronic act, which was not our usual inclination.  Other that that, we knew nothing about the band.

Packed like sardines and loving it.

When we got to the door, we were informed that they were only letting in people who had tickets already, no buying at the door. "Oh well," we said, and prepared to walk on down the street. "All right, you can come in," the door guys said, clearly terrified at losing the crucial forty-and-over cynical demographic.

The cover was twenty dollars.  There were about 500 people in paid attendance, with more allowed to trickle in as the night wore on and some others left.

There was a strong smell of weed in the air, some young girls wearing very little, some Bros and Guidos dancing spasmodically, and the crowd cheered even between the songs on the loudspeaker, the music that was playing before the show started.  We were easily the oldest people there not making tips.

We caught a few minutes of the tail-end of the previous show, a DJ making blips and bloops with a Macbook, and he was very enthusiastically received as well.

R reported being unimpressed with the "renovation" aesthetically, though the sound system is terrific.  The bar is in a very awkward position at the back, and smoking was allowed only at a small porch on the opposite side of the main entrance (and how come people are smoking weed inside but if someone lights a cigarette they're pounced upon by Staff?).

The young, excited audience was quite avid for the show to start.  R remarked that he had never seen so many people film a closed curtain.

Not pictured: solid wave of noise, weed.

Then it began.  "We are Glitch Mob."  It hit hard immediately, heavy on the bass.  Stage-to-ceiling light tubes like Daft Punk meets Kanye.  Constant undertone of fuzznoise, plus the ubiquitous Byoo! Byoo! pulse that is the trademark of the genre.  Some samples of rapping voices.  But above it all, that bass that hits in the chest and brain, making the whole body vibrate as if standing on an enormous subwoofer.

R, who seemed to get all the best lines this night, said that for the same effect, he could have bought X and listened to a Daft Punk CD while flicking his lights on and off.

He was wrong, of course.  He would have had to turn his air conditioner off and invite a few dozen frat houses to join him to get the full effect.

But anyway.  The Glitch Mob were onstage.  As far as we could tell there were three of them, wearing skinny white ties and black shirts, parked in front of futuristic music-playing consoles and one real drum set.  It harkened back to a time when we were high school age, going to clubs like this one, trying to pretend to "get it" to impress a girl while the bass pounded out a beat in time to the horniness of the young, and the volume drove any other thoughts out of their heads so they didn't have to wonder what they were doing there.

R again: "Turn it up! I can still hear myself think that this is not that good!"

Look, it's clear that we are not the audience for this music.  To us it was like one one of those '70s dystopian future movies come alive, the kids moving in rhythm entranced by nothing, but meaning it, feeling it, soulless and hollow and appreciated all the more so because of it.  Just drink, grind, move, and yell, and it's all okay because look, there's some flickering neon!

Here's what we wondered: does the band actually do anything?  Musically, that is?  Is anything here happening, or is it all meticulously pre-programmed?  In a sense, of course, that matters not a bit.  This is a show, whether in the sense of a spectacle in which performers create art and feed off the reaction of the audience, or in the sense of a television show, art that is fed to you as a set piece.

We could see knobs being tweaked, but too hard to tell if they corresponded to any sounds that we heard.  For that matter, we would be hard pressed to say whether the drummer was actually creating the percussion noises that were being blasted into the audience.  Was it live?  Was it mime?  Did it matter?  It was loud and layered and rhythm peeked out of the chaos every once in a while.  It was highly energetic, but controlled.

They were very good at creating that atmosphere.  But is that a compliment?

In sum:  R, again hitting the nail on the head, compared them to Fox News: highly recommended for those who like that sort of thing.  This band is what you go see if you are fixated on loud bass-rich dance music and don't want to be dissuaded from that.  They will give you a bright shiny loud spectacle and you can go home having not once considered anything but the spectacle.  Music in other genres --- Slobberbone, Peter Bjorn and John, the O's --- will attempt to affect you.  You can be energized by the music, laugh at the funny songs, empathize with the poignant songs of failed romance, and be surprised at a new line or a new interpretation of an old song.  Glitch Mob doesn't want to surprise anyone.  There's a set program and they're giving it to you.



Later we had to relax in the cool, quiet, friendly, wood-paneled, adult Anvil Pub.  Best part of the evening, frankly.

15. Mom And Dad at the Barley House, 7/6/11

15. Mom and Dad, at the Barley House.

Mom And Dad: shoes, end of songs optional.

Day Forty-One.  Yes, we're falling behind, but our spirits have not flagged.

So, we happened to be at the Barley House, and lo and behold our fifteenth show was delivered unto us --- a lounge duo called Mom And Dad.  No, seriously, that's what they're called.  No, that's not creepy at all.  Apparently they play the Inwood Lounge with some frequency.

There was no cover.  About sixteen to twenty people were present, though only about twelve or so seemed to be actually giving any attention to the music.

So M&D --- Marc Rebillet on the world's biggest keyboard, the shapely-legged Rachel Zebrosky on vox --- played covers during two sets.

We heard loungified versions of "Space Oddity" and a soulful, slow "Brick in the Wall" first.  Rachel has a great voice, and while their laid-back, languid readings of the classic weren't something we would normally seek out, they weren't an offense to our delicate ears, either.

"My Sweet Lord" was next, ultra-slow and cut off abruptly by Rachel, dismissing it (rightly, alas) as "boring."  Then M&D switched gears with an attempt at the newer song "Fuck You," but that too was stopped after just a few lines, as Rachel (who apparently looked up the lyrics on her smartphone as she sang it) said, "That's all I know."

The Bee Gees, requested by R, fared much better in the pair's hands, with some nice falsetto harmonies on "Staying Alive."  Despite reaching an almost interesting level of energy with that number, it too was stopped abruptly, as Rachel snapped, "Next song."

"Take the Money and Run" worked very well as a lounge song; it made us want to have cocktails and talk to Hip People in John Lennon Glasses.  "Billie Jean," "I Put a Spell On You," and "Spoonful," less interesting choices all, came next.  Then suddenly they left the stage, without a word.  Apparently the cluster of friends who had come to see them were leaving, so M&D walked off stage to follow them out.

In sum: The musical chops are there.  Keyboard is decent and Rachel's voice is good.  She can't hit the high notes but plays to her vocal strengths.  The problem is an almost total lack of showmanship; this is very clearly two friends taking the stage for temporary kicks, not practicing a craft.  The constant song stopping goes a long way to turning off the potential listener, who isn't there to hear the music but might otherwise be drawn in.  And the two are both hidden, almost, Marc by his enormous keyboard, his songbook propped up in front of his face, and Rachel almost always sitting behind a music stand.

The thing is, the two of them were so desultory and flighty the whole evening that R came away saying he enjoyed it, because he was convinced that the entire thing was an ironic put-on, from the giant keyboard to the aborted songs to the flight from the stage.  N, and our friend A, did not agree, and tried to argue that, in fact, what we saw was actually what was being offered: a couple of young dilettante Theater People having fun fooling around, basically entertaining themselves and their friends.  R said, "well, if that's true, it's not very good at all!"