By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Two dudes walk into a bathroom. They look a little partied out, if also a little victorious, smiling as they stumble toward the urinals.
"Dude," one of the pair says. "That was the best 16 dollars I ever spent."
His partner-in-pee-break concurs: "Seriously."
The first, pleased with his choir—and now multi-tasking—expands: "I spent $60 this summer to see Dave Matthews."
"And it'd have to be really good to match what we just saw."
"Yeah," the second dude, appearing to enjoy the conversation despite the setting, replies. "Plus, you got a free CD tonight."
They stand shoulder to shoulder in agreement. Surely, were they not preoccupied, they'd have high-fived by now.
It's been a good night at the House of Blues. Just moments ago, the draw of the night, Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights, wrapped a 90-minute performance that showed the fruits born from three years of 200-plus shows a year and opening slots for the likes of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock. With his five bandmates bouncing and swaying behind him, Tyler, the engaging frontman, shimmied about the stage looking very much the part of a rock 'n' roll icon—a sort of Mick Jagger-meets-Kid Rock hybrid with sweat dripping from every pore as he tossed his head full of hair around in time with the notes from his guitar and his shrill screams.
If there is a true rock star in Dallas music, it's Jonathan Tyler.
But a couple hours before, in the comfort of his band's green room, which sits in a nook above the House of Blues stage with a window overlooking the entire venue, a very different Tyler is on display.
He is calm. Reserved. Mostly, he is quiet. Friends meander in and out of the room and pleasantries are exchanged, but there is little revelry to speak of. No last-minute rehearsal, either. Just a joint being lazily passed about the band members and some cohorts as the headliners await their turn to take the stage.
Tyler, having noticed his bass player Nick Jay glancing out the window at the crowd gathering in the venue, looks up from his spot on one of the room's chairs, taking a break from cuddling with his Hollywood girlfriend, Jenny Wade, who'll star in the upcoming shot-in-Dallas buddy-cop Fox series The Good Guys.
"How's it looking out there?" he asks.
"It looks pretty good," a pleased Jay replies. "The whole floor is packed."
Tyler nods, also pleased.
It may feel like just another show—the nonchalance of the room sure implies as much—but it isn't.
Tonight, whether the band wants to admit it or not, marks a major milestone for its career. This evening will celebrate the impending release of the band's debut major-label album, Pardon Me. It's the band's second release in three years, the follow-up to its 2007 debut, Hot Trottin', a pleasing if poorly mixed collection of Southern rock-meets-classic rock anthems that the band, after having sold more than 10,000 copies, will now discontinue. As far as most music fans outside of Dallas are concerned, that disc's existence will now serve as nothing more than a footnote. For the rest of the country, and in effect, for Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights, Pardon Me is the band's formal introduction. On Tuesday, April 27, the album will earn its release from Atlantic Records and become available for purchase nationwide.
At this show, though, the band is making it available to its hometown fans a little early: Everyone at this show will leave with an early copy of the disc to call his or her own.
On the stage below, The Orbans, the second of the band's two local opening acts, wrap up their set. It's as much a cue as Tyler needs. The singer rises, looks around at his bandmates scattered about the room and starts murmuring about getting ready to perform. Over the course of the next few minutes, The Northern Lights follow suit, ending their conversations and gathering any items they may need—guitar picks, drinks, what have you. Drummer Jordan Cain crosses the room to grab some drumsticks.
"Oh my God, I'm so nervous," he says in a tone of obvious sarcasm. His bandmates smile dismissively and file out the room, then down the stairs toward the stage.
Time to perform.
Maybe this is just another night. Then again, maybe it isn't.
A few days earlier, Tyler is sitting with a Pabst Blue Ribbon can in hand on the patio at the Double Wide, the much-adored rock bar located on the edge of Deep Ellum, catching up with a group of friends he hasn't seen in months. As has been the case for the past three years, he's been on the road. The friends here—among them a few musicians—haven't.
As they swap stories, there's something noticeably absent from Tyler's other hand: a cigarette.
On the covers for both Hot Trottin' and Pardon Me, Tyler is smoking a cigarette, invoking old classic rock 'n' roll clichés. Today, he's wearing a nicotine patch. Hasn't touched a smoke in five days, he says. He's trying to work on his voice, he explains.