At about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Edie Brickell--dressed in a brown leather jacket, a striped T-shirt, black jeans, and old K-Swiss tennis shoes, looking less like the famous wife of a pop-music icon and more like the good ol' Edie of Prophet Bars and 500 Cafes past--loitered outside Trees, basking in the unusually warm November sun. As her former bandmates loaded the rest of their gear into the club and began preparing for sound check, Brickell spoke with old friends, played with their children, and wandered around completely alone--alone, as though the past couple of years hadn't happened, or as though she wasn't aware of how today isn't yesterday.
"It's like the good ol' days," said a colleague of the casual atmosphere preceding such a highly anticipated event--the New Bohemians' first show in more than three years--remarking that the loose mood and smattering of would-be hippies and various hangers-on had imbued Deep Ellum again, if only for a second, with the giddy spirit of old. And, true enough, for such a high-profile show there seemed to be little to indicate this was anything more than another local band loading in for another local show on a low-key Sunday night--no vans, no roadies, no egos, just the unmitigated glee of five people playing together for the first time in a long time, hoping the rush from their momentary reconciliation would sustain them through this night.
And, indeed, once the New Bohemians filed onto the stage and guitarist Kenny Withrow ran his hand across his guitar, evoking a sound that still reverberates throughout the streets of Main, Commerce, and Elm at closing time, it seemed as though the New Bos had never disappeared. It was as if drummer Brandon Aly, who was playing with the complete band for the first time in more than five years, had never been fired during the recording of Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars; as if their second record, Ghost of a Dog, had not stiffed; as if they had not broken up; as if Edie hadn't gone solo and married Paul Simon and become a mother.
The New Bohemians had come home to help raise money for Jahliese Blount, the 4-year-old daughter of a friend, Jahdene Blount, whose murder last September seems to have torn at the fabric of Dallas' not-so-hidden hippie culture. Jahdene was a longtime friend and fan of the band's, and her death--she was stabbed in the neck in her home, her body discovered the next morning by Jahliese--galvanized the so-called Rainbow Family into holding several benefits, drum jams, prayer circles, and other activities that all led to the New Bos' shows on Sunday and Monday nights.
Sunday's event, then, was part concert, part love-in: as people filed into the club, there was more hugging going on than at a Leo Buscaglia book signing. Small children were nestled in their parents' arms; candles, not lighters, were thrust into the haze of smoke (this, despite the NO SMOKING signs posted everywhere because of Edie's own six-months-along pregnancy) and incense; and every other person was swaddled in tie-dye. It was like a giant family reunion, a homecoming, a wake, and a concert blended into one homegrown affair.
But with any event preceded by so much hype, it ultimately failed to live up to monumental expectations. Performing most of Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and a handful of older songs, the band sounded as it always had--riding the crest of Brad Houser's bass lines and Withrow's meandering guitar riffs and Aly's funky-drummer playing and John Bush's percussion and Brickell's sly vocals, giving new meaning to the word jam. Yet once the New Bos took the stage and made it through two or three songs, all sense of immediacy seemed to dissipate.
They were at the very least sabotaged by a sound system that sounded like a donated sound system: all night, during sets by openers the Cartwrights and Brave Combo, the pounding bass mix had been overbearing, and during the New Bos' set it only grew worse till it grew painful till it grew unbearable. And for a band that relies on the subtle, complex combination of Withrow's guitar, Brickell's voice (which did sound clear, pretty, and piercing), and John Bush's percussion, it all but sabotaged whatever momentum and magic the night might have spawned. It was as if someone had thrown a brick through beautiful stained glass.
But the sound alone was not the problem. When the band took the stage, the crowd's reception was loud, but not overwhelming; when the New Bohemians launched into "What I Am," the song that provided their ticket out of this town, the club didn't vibrate with excitement, didn't even buzz. And rarely did Edie speak to the crowd, offering only the occasional "Thanks, y'all." It seemed almost as though the New Bos were, once again, just a band, for better or worse--people listened to them but talked over them, people applauded but with a restrained passion. It was as though for many in the crowd, just to be in Trees among friends was enough, with the music a mere backdrop to an event larger than the reunion of a band time remembered.
Your own backyard
It forever seems that Dallas' "music scene" is the Runner-Up: despite the plethora of local bands signing to major labels and modest front-page coverage in Billboard a couple of months ago, this town seems destined to finish no better than 10th, behind the Chicagos and San Diegos and Austins of this world. But, as the spate of local-only compilations (including the all-Denton Welcome to Hell's Lobby) have proven recently, you don't have to leave town to find what you need any given night. At worst, there are myriad bands in town that sound like your favorite band from somewhere else, and, at best, a couple dozen sound a whole lot better.
The Fry Street '94 collection, subtitled Back on the Street! and released on the Denton-based VIP Records label, is better than any live disc has a right to be: it manages to capture what most studio albums lack, the power that comes only from delivering in front of an audience, without sacrificing clarity. Highlights are the contributions from Funland ("(Die Like a) Satellite"), Baboon ("Happy Life/California Dreaming"), the Grown-Ups ("Mad Villain"), Caulk ("Wait"), and Vibrolux ("Volcano," a song not featured on the band's four-song cassette currently on sale around town). Pops Carter's "Baby, Come on Home" has the appropriate growl but gets Dentonized (too many horns), and surprisingly, the Earl Harvin-Kenny Withrow collaboration ("First Jam") is a bad move to kick off the disc--it's a meandering piece of art-rock, terrific musicianship in search of an actual melody.
A local compilation released through The Met, comprised of previously released material (except for Hagfish's misogynist, facetiously or not, "Buster"), does a fine job of crossing genres: Ronnie Dawson's infectious song-of-the-year "Up Jumped the Devil" exists next to Funland's cathartic "Garage Sale" exists next to the Cartwrights' near-classic "Crazy Broken Heart" exists next to Colin Boyd's sweet "You Act So Tough." But like most compilations, the results are split 60-40, at worst: Fireworks' cover of Link Wray's "Slink" sounds thin and dinky next to Dawson's enormous bad-ass swagger; Jack Ingram can't compete with Donny Ray Ford (it's a little like John Denver taking on George Jones); The Soup is disposable fun though nothing more; and Magic Box is more aluminum than metal.
But there are more delights--some expected and some surprising--than disappointments, ranging from 39 Powers' "Until Anything" (the only rock band in town fronted by a woman who sounds like a thousand choirs) to Bobgoblin's catchy new-wave-hits-of-the-'80s "Nine." But keep in mind it's a sampler: every band on this thing has a tape or CD out, and why pick from the buffet and hear only one song from, say, Lithium X-Mas ("Hip Death Goddess") or the Old 97s ("St. Ignatius") when you can sit down with the full course and own each band's full-lengthers? The Met's "Winter '94" is available for $3.99 at Blockbuster Music.
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