Plastic explosives

Push the Tripping Daisy and make them come up

An hour before Tripping Daisy is set to take the stage, the line wraps entirely around Trees, spilling into the alley behind the club. The show has long been sold out, and by the time the 11:30 rolls around on this Thursday night, dozens of folks still mill around the front of the club trying to find someone with a spare ticket. But there are no more to go around, and so the small crowd is forced to stand outside the door, to sit on the curb or lean against the load-in door, and listen to the Daisy filtered through the unusually crisp May air.

Such is a typical night when Tripping Daisy performs in Deep Ellum--an event, a spectacle, so much more than just another local band performing in front of another local crowd. Not even touring acts draw such rabid, adoring, huge crowds; and of the local bands with major-label record deals, only Pantera could claim such mass devotion in one venue. And to top it off, tonight's crowd is extra large, extra revved up because Tripping Daisy is debuting material from its second album, I Am an Elastic Firecracker, which is due from Island Records on June 20.

For some, the concert is a chance to see how--or if--the band has evolved over the past year; for others, it is an opportunity to discover why Island Records has so much faith that I Am an Elastic Firecracker will be among this summer's most coveted releases. But for most, it's a chance to bathe in the spectacle that is Tripping Daisy, from singer Tim DeLaughter's manic performances to a wild-eyed crowd that shimmies between songs.

With all the elaborate lights--narrow beams dancing on the ceiling, huge hand-held spotlights aimed at the crowd, all of it blinding--and an enormous draping backdrop that resembles the red-and-white stripes of the American flag, the entire show is as evocative as a video; it is even more of an event without the psychedelic slide show upon which the band once relied, with the music and crowd and the interaction between the two now more a centerpiece than a distraction. And, damn it all, but what a centerpiece.

In concert, much more so than in the sonic sterility of the compact disc, Tripping Daisy's music reveals itself as neither brilliant nor banal, not revolutionary or even evolutionary. But it is never boring, never bad; rather, it's the sound made in the middle ground separating those who try too hard to please and those whose music is arrogantly inaccessible, the sound of happy accidents that come and go so quickly they must be seized or completely forgotten. It's like the cool breeze on the hottest day--to be enjoyed now, because the thrill does not last forever.

Tripping Daisy captures what can be so good about pop music--songs that dance upon the skin without piercing it, music that doesn't break hearts or stir souls but merely moves the body. TD's music stays right above the surface without ever going anywhere; it does not transport the listener out of the moment, it will not change your religion or force you to rethink your life or change the color of your eyes.

Rather, it is quintessentially slight, the very antithesis of that old aphorism once applied to the punk-pop of bands like Gang of Four or the Buzzcocks, who made "music to make you think while you dance." It is music you feel, but that does not make you feel; it is music that makes you move, but music that does not move you. More than the songs found on the band's 1992 Dragon Street debut (and subsequent first album for Island) Bill, Tripping Daisy's new material is more solid and more substantive all the way around--bigger, but somehow more intimate.

A song like "I Got a Girl," the first single from the forthcoming album, is terrific in concert--so unabashedly catchy and funny and even sort of sweet ("I got a girl who smells so sweet," DeLaughter sings, "I got a girl who loves her dog /I got a girl who blames it on her period / I got a girl who dances to disco"); as he sings it, DeLaughter--ever the spastic on stage, jumping even when standing still--seems so damned happy about his girl, unable to contain his enthusiasm. And the new "Rocketpop" is similarly wonderful, at least until DeLaughter ruins one guitar break by woooooo-ing all over it.

The Daisy's music is far from brainless or meaningless, no matter how slight it comes off. Like fellow revisionists Hagfish, whose terrific album ...Rocks Your Lame Ass will be delivered to stores a week after the Daisy's, Tripping Daisy are master craftsmen building their moments around engaging frontmen, time-honored hooks, indelible riffs--all of which add up to good songs, these nice moments that stick around for a while until they are replaced quickly by so many others.

If all of this sounds like a back-handed compliment, it's not at all; indeed, as someone who has never been won over by the band, having long thought the off-hand comparisons to the Beatles wrong-headed and offensive, I finally understand why they persist. At their best, Tripping Daisy can come up with something reminiscent of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or "Love Me Do"--songs that are inherently simple but hard to shake, songs that are indestructible because they are built upon the most solid of foundations. If the album's half as good as the concert, Tripping Daisy ain't half bad.

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