They're what makes living in Dallas tolerable for those of us who'd rather shove shards of broken Shiner bottles up our noses than go see another trite alterna-band play at another rock-club-cum-hell-hole. The Sons of Hermann Hall is a historic, wood-floored oasis in a land of concrete and noise (some call that wasteland Deep Ellum); Cowboys and Indians is a breath of swinging, talented integrity among legions of wannabe MTV stars. Put the two together, and you've got a few blessed hours of respite from the worst this city has to offer and the grind of your daily existence.
Cowboys and Indians frontman Erik Swanson has, for the past seven-plus years, written, performed, and recorded original material that comes off as authentic and rollicking as anything by Bob Wills or Ernest Tubb. Swanson's smooth "big man" voice and throttling trombone act as a spearhead for a handful of Stetsoned and suited musicians dedicated to revisiting the glory days of real-deal, dance-hall Western swing. Guitar genius Billy King, thoughtful deputy to Swanson's bellowing sheriff, glues the whole thing together with unflinching cool. And amidst the now-tired hullabaloo over swing dancing and lounge culture (Big D, of course, still chasing the trend like a panting dog), Cowboys and Indians easily transcend the cliches and coattail riders. They're better, smarter, more gifted, and historically more savvy than all those last-minute homage bands (Cherry Poppin' Daddies being a particularly good example of just how low it can go); and they've gracefully sidestepped anything so obvious as "cashing in" on the fickleness of rock audiences. In other words, their consistency and no-bullshit approach keeps them head-and-shoulders above the rest.
Which makes the Sons of Hermann Hall--the band's favorite haunt and several blocks removed from the bloody heart of Deep Ellum--such a perfect match for their music. A whitewashed lodge, a lofty ballroom, a kickin' bar--it's everything the band and fans needed earlier in this century, when it was established by a German fraternal order (think Free Masons, only not) for community events. Walk in and buy a beer from a bee-hived veteran bartender and listen to the faint strains of "I'm a Ding-Dong Daddy;" move up the curved double staircase to the now-louder throb of "Indian Attack"; enter the sweeping, velvet-curtained ballroom to the ear-filling punch of "Stompin' at the Sons." It'll take some self-control to not get out on the dance floor, even if you've never swung before. Drink up, sit back, pretend it's 1953 and you're in Nashville watching the hottest new act on the Columbia label. Tomorrow will break the spell soon enough.
Cowboys and Indians perform at the Sons of Hermann Hall Saturday, August 8. Call (214) 747-4422.