Changing the Course of Empire

Local favorite emerges from the commercial doldrums

That posed a bit of a problem when it came to duplicating the songs live for the band's album release party Friday, January 23, and Saturday, January 24. Lovell had come up with the noises, passages, treatments, and loops not with a sampler--as many do--but at his computer in the studio. "All of the weird noises you hear on that album were made on the computer. I've never been afraid of electronics or electronic music," Lovell says. "To me, it's all instrumentation, all a means to an end."

But there's a limit. "It was important to me to actually trigger the samples [live] rather than play along with some DAT [Digital Audio Tape] somewhere," the drummer says. The samples were rather involved--some ran nearly the length of their songs--and the process of rendering them reproducible live was fairly complicated. Lovell turned to Tim Sanders (formerly of Code 4, now half of the Terror Couple along with wife Jaqueline) for help, and the two spent every spare minute before the weekend gig at the Curtain Club working on a solution.

Saturday night, the packed house testified to the enduring affection Dallasites feel for COE. "These shows always feel like a big wedding," one person there remarked. On stage, the band captured the fullness and density of the album perfectly. COE has long operated at a different level than most local acts--a couple of serviceable local bands will open up the bill and you think, "'hmm, not bad," then Course of Empire takes the stage and reminds you how much difference there can be between "not bad" and "good." Live, the band called up a tornado of sound--thick with the samples and loops Sanders and Lovell had worked on and impossible not to consider--and whipped it around the room, making it do tricks with aplomb. The band has a new booking agent and an upcoming appearance at the influential music-biz Gavin convention, and is considering a number of tours and opening slots. And they finally have Telepathic Last Words.

"All our career, we've been hearing something like, 'You're too diverse; it's like you have no idea at all of who you want to be,'" Lovell says, no longer susceptible to the giggles. "To me, that's looking at it exactly the wrong way. In Course of Empire, we strive to somehow have meaning in our music that attaches itself to life as a whole."

Scene, heard
Anyone who was strolling about Deep Ellum Saturday night, January 24, couldn't help but be struck by the differences between the Curtain Club and Trees, the club that CC co-owner Doug Simmons left not too long ago. Simmons took his sound system with him, but left years of rock and roll memorabilia on the walls and rafters: posters, drum heads, busted cymbals, and other kinds of rock bric-a-brac, most of it autographed. Recently he returned and reclaimed his decorations, many of which--having been over-stapled countless times, saturated with nicotine, and splashed with beer and God knows what else--had to be thrown away...

Every night is different in club land, and it's probably not fair to note that the Curtain Club was packed, while Trees contained maybe 50 desultory mopers. COE is going to outdraw Plaid Faction most nights, even when--as they were this evening--the P. Faction is playing their set as if serving a court-imposed sentence. If Son Volt had been there, you wouldn't have been able to slip a TV Guide between the patrons. The newly bare interior seemed almost sterile--a word you can bet isn't bandied about much in describing any nightclub...

What was noteworthy, however, was the absolutely abysmal quality of sound at Trees. Although their system is supposedly newer and better than Simmons', it sounded like the AM radio in your older brother's Torino next to the amazingly well-set PA at the Curtain Club. Break it down far enough, and it all comes down to how the show sounds. Is Trees already losing a battle with a fresh new competitor?

Chris Darlington, of the feisty three-piece band Darlington, was a startling sight in a fetchingly skintight lacy black number and (under the street lights, at least) gray pancake makeup. Darlington explained that he'd just finished a show down the street and had elected to stay in costume for a late-night constitutional. Looking like a Greco-Roman LeStat, he reported that the band was-even-as-we-spoke awaiting the arrival of Girltroversy, its new full-length from Last Beat, and looking forward to its imminent release...Leak of the week: "The Twist" will be an essential part of the new Darlington philosophy...Burette and Gabriel Douglas of Buck Jones stopped by to compliment the divine Mr. D on his ensemble and reported that they've just inked a deal for the German distribution of their Shimmer...

Is there any more plaintive call to hear from a stage than "Has anybody seen my band?" Country up-and-comer Brian Houser was crying those blues in between country songs from the corner stage at Adair's, then went on to distract himself by inviting two young ladies up on stage to sing with him. This--the laboratory portion of the show--conclusively proved that there was absolutely no connection between being able to stand behind the microphone and looking good, and actually being able to sing. Fortunately, Houser was saved when his band--no doubt mindful of last call--sauntered back in...

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