Deep Ellum Blues

We begin our night at House of Blues. The foxy members of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club laze about the stage, all tight jeans and shabby shirts. They look as if they should be onstage at CBGB. Well, sort of—something's off. Something's off because they appear sober and lucid, their pants a touch too clean, their vocals a bit too clear. We look around and realize we are standing in a space as clean and clinical as an operating room.

It's hard to put a finger on it. The show is fine. The show is great, in fact. BRMC does its job, churning out garage rock that should be sloppy but is tight and professional instead. We are having a fine time, dancing gently to the music, eyes riveted to the bright stage, but something is missing. We're a little...bored.

So we leave early, not a bit remorseful at missing the late half of the show and what we are sure will be a perfectly acceptable encore. The valet attendant lays a palm face up and we slap our ticket into his hand and the Buick is retrieved, and we pile in and we are off. Through Victory Park (embarrassing how the specter of the Mavericks' mortifying collapse still taints the air) and eastward toward Deep Ellum.

Valet parking—again!—and a few steps across Elm Street and we are inside the cave-like coziness of Club Dada. The place is packed and buzzing with happy energy, like a birthday party. In fact, it is the birthday of some band member or other.

Airline is playing, and, man, do they sound good. We have heard them play a few times, at the Barley House and other such places, but never in the dark, beer-soaked confines of Dada, a place where you just can't help but feel rock 'n' roll. Yes, Dada's legendary sound man Bobcat has finally abandoned his place behind the knobs, but still, maybe it's the air in there, or maybe it's the fact that Dada now stands as the cornerstone of a gasping neighborhood, but Airline has never sounded better. The group is pounding away, blasting tight country-tinged rock across the room. They sound the kind of good that makes us stop mid-conversation and cock an ear toward the stage.

And they are not even the headlining band. The headliners are Hendrick. We have mixed feelings about Hendrick, but they win us over this night. They win us over as they kick off their set with a straight-up rendition of "Where the Streets Have No Name," then move on to a series of their signature power pop songs. They win us over because they are loud and tight, because they are crowding the stage, because they wouldn't want to be anywhere else on earth. We grin through the haze of cigarette smoke; we instinctively take a few steps toward the stage, our tennis shoes reluctantly releasing their grip on the sticky floor. We are proud to be here.

And then it's over. We spill out of the club and onto the sidewalk, back across Elm Street and to the car. We pile in, giggling, and the engine starts and the car crawls down the asphalt toward home. Normally, we are a cynical bunch, but as we slowly drive by the cops busting some kids outside Blue, we wonder how it is a neighborhood can just up and die. How a collection of streets that is so important to so many people, people who once filled those same streets, could gradually become empty. And we wonder aloud whether resurrection is possible, or whether the death blow will be swift and sudden or continue its steady, purposeful pace. And on this night, as the air hangs humid and heavy in that Texas way, we chat quietly as the hip-hop station plays in the background, and we are happy at least that we decided to go out.

 
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