Behind the Curtains

A weird weekend in Deep Ellum: names were changed, CDs were released, and two bands supposedly called it quits

The band onstage is called Nervous Curtains, and I guess you could say that this is its first gig.

In a way, it kinda is.

For the past couple of months, the group has performed around the region as the more obviously (and more boringly) named "Sean Kirkpatrick (with full band)." But, bland or not, such a name made sense: Sean Kirkpatrick, after all, is the front guy. The band performs his songs. And, yes, he used to perform those songs alone. He even released an album, last year's Turn on the Interference, as a solo project.

The people who came to The Lounge on Elm Street on this night expected to see "Sean Kirkpatrick (with full band)." And though the band onstage was of exactly the same makeup as the crowd had anticipated seeing, Nervous Curtains, as the act was now called, somehow seemed different.

At the start of the set, Kirkpatrick, seated on his keyboard bench and flanked by fellow Nervous Curtains players Robert Anderson (drums) and Ian Hamilton (synthesizer), coolly and haphazardly announced the change in title. The crowd didn't seem sure how to react. A few of the 50 or so people in the room openly smirked at the moniker. Why change? their faces seemed to read, casting a cloud of cynical doubt over the choice. It's tough to disagree with them: It is an ugly name.

And then the music starts. It's familiar enough to those knowledgeable of Kirkpatrick's past efforts. It's a dark, gloomy and introspective-to-the-point-where-it's-almost-shy sound, coming off like the three members of the band are holed up in a dark apartment, toying with the instruments around them, their curtains nervously drawn because they're afraid to be seen—and perhaps a touch frightened by what's going on outside. Together the trio gives off the impression of a band of agoraphobics, of a close-knit group of friends much more comfortable in the shadows of their own realm than in the spotlight of yours. They sound like...well, kinda like a schizophrenic Tom Waits (um, with full band) after too little sleep.

Kirkpatrick, the stellar area keyboard player best known about town for his work with The Paper Chase, has been kicking about the local scene for years, fronting various Denton outfits in the '90s. Though his music seems an acquired taste (if only because of its nightmarish pop nature), Kirkpatrick's never wanted for appreciation. At this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards, Kirkpatrick, who rarely, if ever, strays from the comfort of his keyboard, took home the Best Instrumentalist title, winning the award over five competitors who hop from instrument to instrument like they have something to prove.

And yet, on this night, Kirkpatrick, now surrounded by a band chosen to complement his tastes, seems an even greater talent. The emotions let loose by his voice and his ivory tickling seem stronger, purer, more confident. This is more than just a Sean Kirkpatrick show. Surrounded by Hamilton's ambient synthesizer and Anderson's backing drums, Kirkpatrick's playing is allowed more freedom. It isn't always the focal point—but it is when he wants it to be. It's as if, in these playing partners, Kirkpatrick has found kindred spirits. Or as if his sad view of the world is just so pronounced that it engulfs the emotions of his fellow players.

Sound somewhat dreary? Well, it is. But, then again, that's the draw. And, on this night, the audience is mesmerized.

The second time Kirkpatrick announces the band's new name, the crowd doesn't balk. The name Nervous Curtains, this time around, is more fitting. It makes sense: With his name off the bill, Kirkpatrick, ever the reluctant talent, is able to blend in. His nerves are calmed behind the presence of his band mates, and his talent is truly able to shine.

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Overall, it was a weird freakin' weekend around town. On Friday night, at Faux Fox's CD release show at The Lounge, everything just seemed off. The Party, represented by DJs Nature and Sober, seemed off their game. The music they played was accessible, sure—a nice way to endear yourself to the crowd—but it also was predictable. I've seen far better sets from them in the past. Guess it was just an off night. Of course, The Party wasn't alone. Hawatha Hurd's short rap set as the opening act for Faux Fox just seemed awkward. Wrong setting, wrong crowd, wrong everything. Gotta give Hurd credit for trying to get the crowd involved, but the hipsters on the dance floor just stared blankly at him the whole time.

Meanwhile, Faux Fox's set was pretty amazing—while it lasted, at least. George Quartz and crew, promoting their pretty awesome All That Remains full-length were rocking out so hard that they almost blew out a subwoofer. The bass was turned up so high at the start of Faux Fox's set that the sound system's bass line shut down. The misstep was quickly overcome as Quartz started mingling through the crowd, making bedroom eyes at every woman on the floor. Unfortunately, after five or so songs, the guys ended their set. It left the crowd wanting more, yeah. But it also left them feeling a little slighted too.

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