A few weeks ago, I attended a "salon"-type public gathering at the Nasher Sculpture Center, hosted by The Dallas Morning News and paneled by the DMN's "Mr. Dallas" and the managing partner of Suite, Matthew Giese. The idea behind this little get-together was to discuss Dallas nightlife. Basically, the entire affair consisted of a slideshow depicting the overly modern innards of nightclubs with unpronounceable names such as Dráelion" and "Bice."
There were many things about the discussion that stuck in my craw, but the sort of out-of-touch, elitist mindset behind these nightspots is much too easy a target. Still, there's one point I haven't been able to dislodge from my craw: a statement by Mr. Dallas wherein he said something to the effect of "Dallas is a weekend town," meaning folks don't turn out for nightlife unless it's a Friday or a Saturday night, because we all have corporate jobs, etc., etc.
Yup, that one might have been the most craw-stickin' of them all. Surely there's music to be had, surely events of interest occur during the work week, and to prove it, I set out for an unscientific survey, a random sample of weeknight events. Here's what I found:
10:15 p.m.: Headed with a pal toward the Monday Night Fights, the rap battles that take place at a Caribbean grill called, uh, the Caribbean Grill. Crossing over the High-Five into the hinterlands of North Dallas, the cityscape alternates between cheap glass mid-rises and even cheaper sheetrock strip malls, one of which houses the Caribbean Grill. The parking lot is speckled with a smattering of unclassifiable types: white girls who toss bitchy looks along with their dark-rooted manes. Fellas just hanging out, some donning giant, ballooning basketball jerseys, but most in jeans and polo shirts. It's weird.
Inside, five bucks gains us entry into the Grill, which has the feel of a combination of a dark airport cafeteria and a failing reggae disco. It's all cinderblocks, folding tables and greasy floor tile. There are maybe seven people inside. Mr. Dallas would never set foot in here. But, sadly, he wins this round: The rap battle is cancelled; there's simply no one here. We get our five bucks back and reverse direction back over the High-Five, defeated.
10 p.m.: Thirty or so folks are here, having chosen to eschew whatever "VIP" Halloween shenanigans are occurring at Ghostbar in exchange for Club Dada, a dark, smoky, slightly dank bar that stands as one of the last toeholds of the "old" Deep Ellum. Philadelphia's The National Eye warbles and meanders; several different types of music thread their way through the band's oeuvre, but none of them takes hold. This is one of those rare groups that, at least based on tonight's performance, sounds better recorded than live. It's a valiant effort, as keyboards and synths attempt to instill a little Beach Boys pop into their guitar-noodly tunes, but the disparate elements do not coalesce and the gung-ho vocal harmonies miss each other.
The Capitol Years fare a bit better. Comprised basically of several members of the National Eye rearranged behind different instruments, CY pumps out a more rock-tinged set, less experimental though no less intelligent. A highlight is "Mirage, People," a catchy little number, the lyrics of which are lifted from an anonymous blog post that slammed the band: "The Capitol Years are not a good band," sings Shai Halperin over a typical, but nonetheless engaging, chord progression, "It's a mirage, people."
Not exactly true. The Capitol Years is a good band, just not a particularly great one, but, dammit, there are people here, sucking down the pints on special, paying attention to a band that traveled all the way here from Philadelphia. It's a typical night for people who actually enjoy music, and as such, it's a winner.
8:30 p.m.: It's chilly standing in line outside the Gypsy Tea Room, hundreds of us waiting to get our grubby little hands on our much-coveted Beck surprise show tickets. This one's a no-brainer—we've got the Dallas-is-a weekend-only town idea licked with this bad boy. And of course, Beck delivers, not in his usual dancing machine, elaborate stage-show-with-puppets kind of way, but in an intimate, genuine kind of way. Kicking off with "Devil's Haircut," joined by his brother-in-law, Giovanni Ribisi, on guitar, rattling off imperfect improvisations, his band jamming on borrowed equipment, Beck treats us all to a personal and gloss-free set, a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It's only Wednesday.
The weekend-only thesis soundly refuted, I figure there is no improving on the night. But there is, actually, and it involves strangers' breasts and a live band. Rock Star Karaoke at the Barley House is a rowdy affair, as drunken wannabes belt out everything from "Anarchy in the U.K." to " Guyana Punch," but as two young ladies remove their tops and keep them off for the duration of a meandering rendition of Janis Joplin 's "Piece of My Heart," it becomes transcendent, as the past three evenings fuse into a cohesive thesis: Wasted people taking off their clothes, music lovers hunching over cheap beer, strip-mall denizens struggling to get a rap battle night off the ground—these are the meat and potatoes of Dallas music. These small moments are reasons why Dallas music is never gonna die, and why it can't be pigeonholed into "nightlife" or a particular night of the week. Mr. Dallas doesn't know what he's missing—and we didn't even have to wait till Thursday to prove it.
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