By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
There's a reason Centro-matic has such a rock-solid reputation 'round these parts, and the Denton-based rock band proudly showcased that reason on Saturday night.
Playing before an enthusiastic crowd packed onto the Granada Theater's floor, the lauded area four-piece act blitzed through an 80-minute set that was being taped for a live-performance DVD. The band only paused once for breath—and that came only when the tapes in the at least four cameras roaming about the Granada's grounds needed to be changed. And, even then, it was a quick break. Sure, lead singer Will Johnson joked that this would be the opportune time for the audience to head to the lobby and get some more drinks in their system—he even jokingly sang a little ditty about it—but he knew better than to just let the mood he and his band had built up in the previous half-hour die. So, instead of simply standing onstage, tuning his guitar, he rattled off a quick rant about the first time he'd tried Wild Turkey whiskey. The gist of it: He was 7, and his older brother had decided to let him try a sip of his.
"We swap a lot of stories on the bus," Johnson said, laughing and turning to his band mates, Scott Danbom, Mark Hedman and Matt Pence. "But I think I even surprised you guys with that one."
His band mates smiled and nodded as the audience laughed approvingly. If the crowd wasn't eating out of Johnson's hand before this diversion, it certainly was at this point. Then, before anyone knew it, the band revved its engine back up for the remainder of its high-octane set.
Johnson, showcasing a personality he so often hides during stage shows, was clearly in a good place mentally. Flashing a constant smile, he strummed his guitar with such ferocity that he half-ironically, half-out-of-necessity spent a good chunk of the performance playing his guitar with a leg hoisted up in the air. Pence, too, simply dazzled—dude rattled off complicated drumbeats with such ease you'd think he were a machine. Meanwhile, Danbom and Hedman weren't too shabby, either, swapping piano-, guitar- and bass-playing duties without allowing for a hitch in the set's momentum or sound.
It was the collective effort and the fact that, as the set wore on, the band only played, er, harder, better, faster and stronger that was so remarkable. Like a train gaining momentum on the tracks, Centro-matic kept one-upping itself again and again and again. Even more impressive was that, earlier in the night, the audience had seen sets from two other highly regarded area projects, The Theater Fire and the Kadane Brothers (of The New Year and Bedhead).
And though each of those earlier performances was well-received, by the time Centro-matic's set (which included a 15-minute encore) came to its end, it didn't really matter who had opened for them. The wowed looks on the disbelieving, shaking heads that exited the venue on Saturday night only confirmed what so many people in the local music community already knew: Centro-matic's the feather in the DFWd scene's cap.
The scene on Saturday night was just another notch in Centro-matic's belt. Earlier in the week, the band found its new record, Dual Hawks, a double-disc split with the band's other project, South San Gabriel, reviewed on Pitchfork, the sickeningly hip music Web site. The disc earned a respectable 6.9 rating (out of 10).
Also getting a Pitchfork review this week is the mysterious Denton-based drone act Pyramids, which earned itself a 6.4 on the site's highly subjective rating system. Here's what we know about Pyramids: The band, which is signed to Hydra Head Records, claims Denton as its home base, but never plays shows. Oh, and no one seems to have any idea who its members are. Awesome! Can't help but wonder if we'll see similar "who's that?" success stories over the coming months and year, thanks in no small part to the lovefest that has been Denton's coverage in The New York Times, The London Guardian, Paste Magazine, et al.
Seems odd, but those Pitchfork reviews were just the start of the national media news Dallas musicians saw last week. The two brothers who make up the hip-hop crew Play-N-Skillz have been at the end of some serious praise of late. The duo produced the track "Got Money" on Lil Wayne's universally praised (and highly anticipated) release Tha Carter III, and in case that wasn't enough, "Got Money" has been consistently name-dropped by critics as one of the album's potential smash singles. So, yeah, things are good right now for the half-Venezuelan, half-Argentinean brothers, who're also the beatsmiths behind Chamillionaire's massive 2006 single, "Ridin'." Hip-hop mag The Source even stopped in Dallas to do a one-page feature on the brothers' favorite spots around town. The only downside: The rag muffed up Play-N-Skillz's heritage, calling the duo half-Mexican. Oh well.
Of course, national praise doesn't get much higher than this: Dallas-bred songstress Erykah Badu walked away from last week's BET Awards with a Best Director trophy in tow. She and co-director "Mr. Roboto" won the award in honor of the video for "Honey," the first single off of Badu's fabulous New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War. In the video, the images on the merch in a local record store (most of which feature Badu) come to life as a customer thumbs through the selection.