Business is down in Deep Ellum. Heard around 30 percent from some, a little higher from others. Some clubs are doing better than others, of course, and some are just hoping to get through this. We've heard plenty of off-the-record stuff, plenty of conversations that end with "and you did not hear this from me," and the picture we're getting isn't very pretty. We're not saying Deep Ellum is on the verge of collapse, that it will soon be nothing more than rows of empty buildings, as it was two decades ago, before Theater Gallery and the others moved in and took over. But it's not all about roof decks and running up bar tabs anymore.
You can blame some of this on the economy, the recession or depression or whatever. Certainly, when you're in a wage freeze, when you've been laid off, when the bills are stacking up and the money isn't, going to see a rock show generally falls off your to-do list. Drinking might have a higher priority, but certainly not at a bar. You can buy a nice bottle of Knob Creek for less than it'll take to get a slight buzz at some places, after tips and such. So there's that.
There's something else, however, and this is the part not many people will discuss. But it's there all the same. Fact is, there's just not enough good bands to go around right now, not enough groups you can see taking a giant step up to the next level, not enough acts that can put asses in the seats, so to speak. Let's put it another way: Right now, there's too many opening acts and not enough headliners. And, for whatever shortcomings they might have, this is not the fault of booking agents or club owners or whomever you want to blame. You gotta work with what you got, people.
Not that there aren't highlights every weekend. Take this one, for example: Centro-matic and Sorta are at Curtain Club on November 7, followed by Sparrows, Mur and Seymoure the next night; Hi-Fi Drowning and The Shining Time play Liquid Lounge on November 9; El Gato opens for Ash at Trees on November 9; Pleasant Grove does the same for Calexico and Destroyer on November 8. And there are up-and-comers out there: Robot Monster Weekend, The Chemistry Set, 25% Toby, Alan, The Chinese Stars, Faceless Werewolves, The Petty Thieves, 41 Gorgeous Blocks, The Rocket Summer, My Spacecoaster, Tweed and others we don't even know about yet. You only hope that the North Texas New Music Festival (which happens November 13-17) lives up to its name, and that some of those bands rise to the occasion. And keep doing it.
Getting as far as possible from new musicians as possible, we thought we'd let you know that 74-year-old Arkansas bluesman CeDell Davis--who recorded his latest album, When Lightnin' Struck the Pine, in Dallas and Denton earlier this year--is playing a couple of shows in the area this weekend. Davis and his band (Jimbo Mathus and Stu Cole of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, along with drummer Joe Cripps and guitarist Thomas Houston Jones) will be at Muddy Waters on November 10 and Dan's Silverleaf in Denton the next night. If you were hoping for star power, forget it: Mathus and Cole, who also play together in Jimbo Mathus and his Knock Down Society, are filling in for Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey--members of Davis' backing band on Lightnin'--since they're working on a new R.E.M. album. Which hopefully will be better than last year's Reveal. But Davis doesn't need big names to impress. So come out anyway. Because, as Buck told us in January, "Once he and R.L. Burnside are gone, that's it. It's all going to be people that grew up hearing it secondhand." Don't miss your chance...
We mentioned it earlier in this column, but it bears repeating: Sparrows play Curtain Club on November 8, and it'll be a CD-release shindig for the group's new (and very good) Rock and Roll Days. The band, which features singer-guitarist Carter Albrecht and slide guitar player Ward Williams, as well as a constantly shifting rhythm section, recorded the disc at Last Beat's studio with the often overlooked Paul Williams, and the album title is absolutely appropriate. If you're wondering why people stopped making rock records the way they used to, stop wondering. But maybe that's just how we see it.
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