By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
A few months ago, on a Saturday night, I judged a Battle of the Bands, where the best rock groups from local private high schools competed for fame, glory and $500.
"Shit, man," scoffed John Dufilho, riding next to me in the passenger seat. "If I'd known about the 500 bucks, I would've brought my band to compete." Dufilho is the lead singer of The Deathray Davies and I Love Math. He's been my best friend since high school, so I asked him to do me a favor and judge the event, too.
I basically agreed to the gig as a family favor (my niece was helping host it), but having watched some of those VH-1 Behind the Music things, I admit I also had vague hopes of discovering the next Dallas-bred pop star--another Norah Jones, Jessica Simpson or Erykah Badu. I imagined myself interviewed under soft lights, saying, "The second he/she got onstage, it was obvious to everyone in the room that he/she was going to be a superstar."
"Should we stop and get some beer?" Dufilho asked.
"Dude, it's a Catholic high school."
"So they probably won't have beer then, huh?"
Student volunteers wearing headsets buzzed all around us.
"Wow," I thought to myself. "We didn't have headsets when I was in high school."
The walls were decorated with some drug-education student project, including a poster designed like a race track of addictions, titled "Dash for Hash."
"That's what I do when I get off the airplane in Amsterdam," Dufilho said in an Elvis-impersonator voice.
We entered the auditorium, decked out with a full stage setup and a life-size Jesus on the cross.
"Wow," I thought to myself. "We didn't have girls like this when I was in high school." I hadn't seen so many stunning girls in one place in years. It beat any nightclub hands down. I regretted not dressing a little nicer.
Dufilho leaned over and whispered, "Man, it's a good thing no one from my band came. They would've been trying to take these girls home, like, for real."
It was going to be a long night. Disappointingly, there were no girls in any of the bands. Where was the next Sleater-Kinney, Hope Sandoval or Lauryn Hill? Furthermore, where were the rappers and DJs? There weren't even any black people anywhere. I can't bear to see another generation stuck in the same format: four white guys playing guitars and drums. The rest of the world has progressed beyond that--why can't Dallas?
But there were pleasant surprises, like the Jesuit High School band Casual. When these guys hit the stage, I was blown away. Not only by their ability to rock, but by the musical influences that extended well beyond their age--it was as though they'd digested the best of 1980s British rock, from XTC to the dawn of Pulp, and emerged with something all their own. They ended their three-song set with a cover from Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Lovethat sounded like it'd been played by the Stone Roses. Fucking brilliant. After their set, I asked 18-year-old lead singer Bill Stevenson and his bandmates what life was like for them at Jesuit High School. "Everybody hates us," he said. "We're total geeks." I explained to them that there was no greater compliment. It's a sign of great things to come. Case in point: Feature Friday. Here was a band adored by their peers. They had CDs for sale, probably a manager and a record deal to boot. What they didn't have, however, was a soul. In my critique, I explained how sad it was to see kids so young sell out so early. They were a band custom-made for commercial alternative (a paradox if ever there was one) radio, and I hated them for it. Apparently so did the other judges, because they didn't even score in the top three--despite legions of Linkin Park fans swearing they were "the shit."