I'm not going to get involved in the stupid "Dallas vs. Fort Worth" pissing contest, although I've lived in the Fort for most of the last 35 years, so that should give you a clue as to my loyalties. Now that development dollars - many of them from Big D - have created our very own bar ghetto here (the "West 7th corridor"), and we have our very own hipster enclave that's maybe five years from getting gentrified and yuppified out of existence (Fairmount), there's also an unprecedented opportunity for musos to work in the Town of Cow.
As much as I bitch about the development (my sweetie calls West 7th east of Montgomery Street "the curmudgeon zone," because she's gotten accustomed to hearing me grouse about "North Dallas at University and Camp Bowie"), I'd rather see thriving businesses and people making money in this town than empty storefronts, and it's true folks here have gotten accustomed to paying to hear live music, whereas a decade ago I once watched Brian Forella from the late, lamented Wreck Room (our living-room-away-from-home until it closed in 2007) chasing prospective patrons into the parking lot who'd walked away from a three-dollar cover to hear a touring band and two locals. You can hear lots of live music any night of the week now, and every weekend, you have several worthwhile shows to choose from. It was not always thus.
It isn't just the "music clubs" that are booking bands now. There are dive bars, sports bars, and DIY spots (the redoubtable 1919 Hemphill and the upstart Where House). Lots of metal bands play on the far West Side, in the zip code where Joe's Garage once thundered. Rockers like Apache 5 and the Hannah Barbarians play at Fort Worth South, Inc.-sponsored Friday On the Green. The Modern Art Museum hosts their First Fridays. Even the specter of failure isn't enough to slow the march of commerce: downtown mainstay 8.0 closes, and its competitor, the Flying Saucer, moves across the street to supplant it.
Stylistically, you get everything from country (Western swing was born here, and there are bands with more authentic spirit than the insipid "Texas music" spew, the best being Arlington-based Convoy and the Cattlemen, who look to be their generation's Eleven Hundred Springs) to blues (the spirit of Robert Ealey's New Bluebird Nite Club lives, mainly at the venerable Keys Lounge) to Y'Allternative (Rotten Roots, Badcreek) to folk (Telegraph Canyon, Whiskey Folk Ramblers). Rawk-wise, there's been a recent explosion of heavy bands: the resurgent Garuda, local supergroup Vorvon, Stone Machine Electric, FTW, Bagger. More to the point of this missive, there are several flavors of punk rock on offer in the 817.
To start with the most exalted, Wild//Tribe is yet another incarnation of two bands - Unit 21 and Tolar - with overlapping memberships. They unleashed Endless Nights in 2011, and play hardcore in the grand manner, with not one but two tonsil-tearing lead vocalists. Their set is short, but it's hard to imagine anyone sustaining the level of intensity they operate at for more than 30 minutes - think Escape from New York with big amplifiers. The result is cathartic, although I'd advise viewing them from a comfortable distance, unless you want to get caught up in the maelstrom of yahoos doing the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal dance in front of the stand. The end of Western civilization has never sounded so appealing.
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By now, Fungi Girls drummer Skyler Salinas is sick to death of reading about how young he and his bandmates are. The Cleburne-based trio (two-thirds of which are relocating to Fort Worth this summer), has a couple of no-fooling, get-in-the-van national tours under its collective belt, not to mention a stack of releases (the most recent of which is last year's incandescent Some Easy Magic LP on Hozac), with another album in the works. For want of a better characterization, their sound is psychedelic surf punk, but their new tunes are more aggressive. A lot of their onstage energy flows from Salinas, as he hunches over his kit, throwing out the one-handed rolls, while up front, the visual contrast between hulking singer-guitarist Jacob Bruce and McCartneyesque bassist Deryck Barrera is striking. Quite simply, they're the most exciting live band I've seen in a decade or more - maybe since the Mooney Suzuki, whom I first beheld in 1999.
The next two bands I want to pull your coat to share a booking agency (Dallas Distortion Music), a label (Lo-Life Recordings), a producer (Britt Robisheaux, who plays in the Theater Fire, Drug Mountain, and Most Efficient Women when he isn't knob-twiddling), and a couple of releases (the split cassette Love At First Fight, Vol. 1 and an upcoming split 7-inch, Introducing...). Beyond that, their front guys (War Party's Cameron Smith, Doom Ghost's Lavern Marigold) share a penchant for facial hair and hats. That's where the similarities end.
War Party's a quartet whose instrumentation includes a trumpet, but thankfully they don't sound anything like Cake. Sonically speaking, they have a penchant for borrowing classic song structures ('57 doo-wop I-VI-IV-V, '64 Kinks racka-racka) and running them through a postmodernist filter so Smith can spew his brainy, jaded lyrics over the resultant racket in a Marc Bolanesque yelp.
Doom Ghost, a trio in the tradition of the Devil Dogs and the Wipers, combines unusually authentic-sounding '60s garage-rock pastiche with Marigold's observations of the passing scene - a real young man's blues. Onstage, both bands can be shambolic, their underlying pop sensibility lost in jagged welters of imprecise execution, which just makes them more exciting to watch, like an out-of-control locomotive; you want to avert your eyes, but you have to see whether or not it comes off the tracks. This summer, Doom Ghost will be touring the West Coast and Midwest with San Antonio's Rich Hands, which should only serve to tighten up their attack.