Every which way but loose

The Dallas scene flourishes beneath the chaos

It's not like it's a question of money: Most of the people out on the town don't think twice about paying $5.50 for a bad martini, so why won't they shell out eight bucks to see one set by a local band? To check out 40 minutes of live music? And must we jabber back and forth all the time? Must we moan like grandpa with a rash? Without any further discussion or fannying about, then, here are the best live shows seen in the area this year:

Alvin Crow and Doug Sahm at Sons of Hermann Hall, January 4. Originally billed as the Texas Mavericks--a collaboration between Doug Sahm, Alvin Crow, and John X. Reed, all on electric guitar--this show looked shaky for a while when Sahm said he couldn't make it. They restructured the show with Crow headlining and Ed Burleson opening, but when Crow showed up for the gig, Sahm got out of the truck with him. Although the band accompanying them was half sick with the flu, you couldn't tell as they kept back the chilly winter with the dulcet strains of good ol' Texas music. The best part of the evening was the way the moldy oldies--standards such as "San Antonio Rose" and "Faded Love"--sounded like the longtime friends they really are.

Iris DeMent at Caravan of Dreams, April 24. Live, DeMent was previously a minimalist; usually, it was just her and her guitar--and, at most, a couple of other acoustic instruments behind her, adding a dash of flavor. But on this stop, she had a full electric honest-to-gawd bar band with her, built around the considerable talents of Richard McLaurin, the guitarist in opening act Farmer Not So John. A riveting show, enlivened by the presentation of old favorites with the crash and bang of rock.

Social Distortion at Deep Ellum Live, May 15. You can call them a one-note act, but bad boy Mike Ness doesn't give a shit either way. Ness works the whole rock and roll shtick--eye shadow, tattoos, running the pick along the guitar strings and making that cheesy zzizzzzzzzzzzzznng--like a master. Unlike the puffery of a peacock like Rod Stewart, Ness is all bantam cock, only occasionally allowing the mask to drop and show a bit of vulnerability or pain. This show featured a bodaciously bone-headed mosh pit--at one point people were hanging from the lights--and some real stage presence on the part of Ness, who cussed out some "jock motherfuckers" that he didn't like and offered to meet after the show for fisticuffs and buggery. It probably wasn't as edgy as it felt, but a prime slice of rock and roll theater nonetheless.

Emmylou Harris at Caravan of Dreams, May 20: A great evening with one of the best; Harris has moved from being a singer defined by a genre to just plain being an artist, and the music she makes in so doing is exhilaratingly beautiful. Joined by ace guitarist Buddy Miller, Harris delivered a seamless set of songs that drew from her entire career, highlighting the recent Wrecking Ball. This was one of those rare instances when it would've paid to see both the early and the late shows--the band only repeated four songs.

Link Wray at Trees, June 21. Link Wray seemed ageless as he strode across the stage, his long hair flowing down past his shoulders from the big topknot that secured it atop his head. He opened with "Rumble"--as if to say, Let's get this shit out of the way--and then proceeded to pound out a loud, long set of some of the greasiest, most distorted guitar music ever heard.

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown at Poor David's Pub, June 28: This was a rare solo acoustic appearance for Brown, and a bit worrisome: Brown is notorious about demanding quiet and attention and can often work himself into a glowering pout when he feels he's being slighted. Happily, the crowd, rapt and laughing at every joke, adored him; the old master was downright sunny. That night, Brown's overlays of blues, jazz, pop, and R&B made a case for his status as an American treasure better than any article ever could.

Rickie Lee Jones at Deep Ellum Live, July 2: Give Rickie Lee Jones credit for turning her back on the lifetime of house payments guaranteed by "Chuck E.'s in Love" and choosing instead to produce--and base a live show on--the weird recombinant music of this year's Ghostyhead, which was a machine's dream of the experimental approaches to her Boho muse. On stage she performed as a character, delivering disturbed little-girl mumbles, distressed ranting, and spinning as the band around her produced a clanking, chirping collection of sounds.

Phish at Starplex Amphitheatre, July 25. A phenomenally hot show, even from these jam-band sultans. Guitarist Trey Anastasio uncoiled lead lines that glowed like lengths of white-hot cable, cracking them over the heads of the audience while the rest of the band thundered beneath him. The fey embellishments and baroque cuteness that can at times trip the band up were nowhere in sight.

Lilith Fair at Starplex, August 4. Best vibes of the summer, just a really cool, joyous night full of first-class music. Dorks who worried about male-bashing were so far off the mark it wasn't funny.

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