For such a self-deprecating city, Dallas still manages to surprise me from time to time.
Take, for instance, the story of John Lefler.
You may or may not know who he is. For those of you who don't, a primer: Lefler's biggest claim to fame is that he's the guitarist for Chris Carrabba's emo-rock poster child outfit, Dashboard Confessional.
Anyway, here's the really interesting thing about Lefler—something you probably don't know. See, Lefler's lived in Dallas for the past three years now. Doesn't have to. Has no ties to the immediate region. Could live anywhere in the country, really.
But he chose to live here. Why?
"I was trying to get out of California," he says over the phone from a Boston tour stop.
Of course, there's more to it than that. Like the fact that he actually enjoys it here, for one. And he likes the musicians he's met from the area, especially area singer-songwriter and producer Salim Nourallah, who has his hands in about a bajillion different musical pots.
"He's a big part of why I moved there," Lefler concedes.
The two met a few years back when Nourallah served as a backing musician for Rhett Miller and opened a slew of dates for Dashboard Confessional. The two hit it off during talks about music and what-have-you and, when Lefler was looking for a place to relocate to, he listened to Nourallah when he suggested Lefler move to Dallas. At the very least, Lefler figured, he'd be able to record his as-yet-unreleased solo works at Nourallah's Pleasantry Lane Studios. And he's been able to do just that since moving to town.
But, again, there's more to this story. Turns out, after Lefler and Nourallah became friends, the two realized that they'd kind of run into each other a few years before they formally met.
"[Dashboard was] opening for Weezer a few years back," Lefler recalls, "and we had a day off in Dallas. So we ended up going to the Gypsy Tea Room [now The Door] for an Old 97's show because we thought it looked like a cool thing to do. But we ended up hanging out in the other room for a bit [the area now known as the Prophet Bar] and started talking to some girls."
And, in true "rock star" fashion, Lefler and his bandmates started talking about their band and how they were only stopping through the city to perform.
"I got one of the girl's numbers, and I invited her to the show," Lefler says. "The next day, I called her number up and asked if she was home. The guy on the other line was like, 'No. This is her husband.'"
Burn! And, turns out, that call was answered by Nourallah, whose wife, area artist and photographer Jayme, was the girl Lefler was trying to pick up—something neither Nourallah nor Lefler picked up on until after Nourallah introduced Jayme, as his wife, to Lefler.
"I didn't recognize her at first," Lefler says, laughing. "But she was like, 'Hey, I know you!'"
Luckily for Lefler, Nourallah found the story amusing. Now, when Nourallah performs around town with his backing band and regular guitarist Chris Holt isn't available, Lefler serves as the stand-in.
And on Sunday night, when Dashboard Confessional stops in to perform at Grand Prairie's Nokia Theatre as part of the Rock Band 2 tour with Panic at the Disco, Plain White T's and The Cab, a Nourallah—or, more likely, two Nourallahs—will likely be on Lefler's guest list.
"This is actually only the second time we've played Dallas since I've moved there," Lefler says, "and because it's our second-to-last show, it will serve as a nice finish line, so to speak. I'll be able to take all my crap off the bus and be able to dump it off at home, which is nice."
And of that home in Dallas?
"Well, it feels like home now, that's for sure," Lefler says, content with his decision to move here.
So, OK, Dallas has its charms. And, yeah, there are some nice people in the music community.
It's still a frustrating place from time to time. Hell, it was just a month ago now that I railed against the seemingly positive overspill of talented touring acts Dallas was seeing as a result of being a natural warm-up tour stop for bands on the way down to perform at Austin City Limits, arguing that it was too much for the local concert-attending set to handle in too short a time.
Well, a simple look at our Critic's Picks page this week (page 59) shows that—uh-oh—it's the same old song and dance this weekend, this time thanks to Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. Of the eight shows our staff recommends that page, seven (the lone exception being alt-country act Drag the River's show at Andy's Bar) are acts that are stopping through en route to or on the way home from Austin.
And we didn't even have the page space to recommend Friday night's House of Blues show from spacey indie rock duo Magnetic Morning (featuring Swervedriver front man Adam Franklin and Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino) or Sunday night's gig from brutal sludge/post-rock outfit Young Widows at The Prophet Bar.
If there's a silver lining here, though, it's that only about half of these gigs are taking place at venues that can hold more than a couple hundred people. So, with any luck, all of these shows will be well-attended.
Thankfully, though, the Drag the River date isn't the only area gig worth checking out this weekend without ties to Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. There's at least one more worth mentioning—although you wouldn't necessarily realize it, based on the bill alone.
What, the names Tom Gabel, Ben Nichols, Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry don't ring a bell? They should. They are, respectively, the lead singers for punk act Against Me!, alt-country act Lucero, punk act Hot Water Music and punk/hardcore act Avail. Together, these four front men are teaming up for a traveling show of solo, acoustic performances that stops at The Prophet Bar on Saturday night. (Odd note: Drag the River member Jon Snodgrass took part in an earlier leg of the trip).
"It's just a really rad idea," Gabel explains over the phone from a tour stop in California. "It's a totally unique setup, and it has a certain looseness to it. Mistakes are laughed at. We're basically just hanging out and drinking and backing each other throughout the night."
For fans of Gabel's Against Me!, there's an added bonus: In addition to a number of Against Me! tracks, Gabel will also be performing some songs from his excellent, politically charged, just-released solo disc Heart Burns. Originally, the seven songs that make up the new disc were intended to appear on the next Against Me! album.
"I was just writing songs as I always did," Gabel says. "But I wanted to get the album out before the election."
So he rushed the disc to an extent—although the album doesn't suffer from it—and recorded it without his normal Against Me! supporting cast. And though he's performing these sometimes in-your-face political tunes after this past week's presidential election, Gabel isn't worried that the songs will lose their impact.
"I just said, 'Fuck it. I gotta write about something I care about,'" he says. "And it's not like this is the last election to end all future elections."
No matter what the pundits may have said.
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Oh, and speaking of outlandish punditry: Apologies to Stephen Benavides, who I called a "no-name" back in August when I blogged about his taking over some booking duties at The Door and The Prophet Bar.
The guy's carrying his weight—and fulfilling his promise to try and change the stigma surrounding the venues he now books.
In the coming weeks, the combined venues will host performances from storied alt-rock act Fishbone, lauded hard rock outfit King's X, power poppers (and Dashboard Confessional tourmates) Plain White T's, death metal act Job for a Cowboy, hip-hop/electronica duo 3oh!3, as well as a shared bill from local favorites The Theater Fire and Dove Hunter and, perhaps most shocking, a concert from hip-hop legend Ice Cube.
Dunno how much of this Benavides is specifically responsible for, but talk about a surprise.