The weather was brisk in Dallas on Saturday night, but it was the perfect occasion to get bundled up and hit Deep Ellum for the Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase. Or warm up with a drink or 10. The showcase, with 40 bands spread across nine different venues, always has a festive feel to it, but the circus act of Krampus-goers who also flooded Elm Street that night ratcheted things up a bit. As far as we can remember, anyway. Things got a little hazy in there.
There was a lot to take in, so we sent out a team of writers to pick out their favorite experiences from the night and try to make some sense of this crazy old community of Dallas music. At this rate, we ought to just about be recovered in time for the DOMA ceremony at The Bomb Factory. Good thing we have till Wednesday to recuperate (and pick out our costumes, of course — but maybe leave the Krampus ones at home this time).
Elm Street was abuzz from end to end on Saturday night, with some of the helpful folks of Krampus taking it upon themselves to direct traffic — and judging by the crowds, the DPD needed all the help they could get. The 2015 DOMA Showcase transformed the neighborhood into a wall of sound, encouraging otherwise sane adults to toss out those ADD meds in favor of booze and tunes. There was so much to see and so little time.
I got my funk-jazz infusion from Kirk Thurmond at Prophet Bar. They’re a great five-piece outfit that will give you something you can groove to. At The Door, Justin Pickard delivered the most pleasant surprise of the evening, thanks to an outlaw country sound that would seem right at home in a 21st century spaghetti western. Reno's was an appropriate venue to host the SuperSonic Lips, a female-fronted four piece that jams out like they’re plugged directly into the electrical grid. Singer Yaya Lion has an energetic edge with a writing style that conjures up notes of Jack White, if he were dancing along the edge of minimalist punk-rock and metal.
On the raw talent side of things, singer/song writer Kaela Sinclair blew the roof off Club Dada with her emotional, soaring vocals. She’s one to watch. Fans of Black Sabbath should feel an immediate connection to Pearl Earl. The best part of this showcase, year in, year out, is the opportunity for discovery, and at their 11 p.m. set at The Door, I discovered my new favorite local rockers. Then it was time to quickly get that shot of Dezi 5 and chase it with some Ishi. Neither of those acts need an intro. If you weren't there, you'll just have to wait until next year to get it in the same way.
At every DOMA showcase, it's hard for music lovers to stay in one place for too long. That’s not a slag on scheduling; there’s just so much to enjoy, almost always at the same time. My night started with the soulful indie pop of the Azalea Project at Club Dada, then Le Cure at The Door and the BoomBachs at Reno’s. Out of those three, Reno’s had the biggest draw, even at the early hour of 9 p.m. The BoomBachs were a revelation to me, and it's impossible to categorize them. It’s not hip-hop, psychedelic, jazz or funk — it’s just a great sound. I then spent some time thumbing around for Scott Walker and Jawbox records while Wanz Dover DJed apocalyptic, Kraut dance music at Off the Record. Yeah, I know he writes for us, but as an admirer of his projects long before I ever wrote for this publication, I was happy to see him up and healthy, doing something he loves.
The Rich Girls at Dada were a priority for me, even though I have seen them almost a dozen times. No, they haven’t changed their goofy shtick or their set list of Hall & Oates tunes (and a Ginuwine tune), but it’s always entertaining and charming. Unbeknownst to me, Rahim Quazi’s set at the Green Room had been moved up an hour. Quazi — complete with his full band — played a joyous set to a packed patio. A fuse blew in the PA right before the final song, but it didn’t daunt Quazi. He finished “Supernatural” singing acapella with his band and the audience gathered up front.
My night ended with the Vandoliers at Three Links. For a band that has been together for less than a year, they've climbed the ranks very quickly. Their twisted country/rockabilly sounded great in the wee hours of Sunday. They finished out the night on a high note.
Another DOMA showcase, another shining example of how much musical talent Dallas boasts. Another thing became clear at the showcase as well: Dallas does everything big. It is a diverse city of exceptional artists playing every genre, and whatever your tastes you are guaranteed to find a Dallas band that does it just as well, if not better, than anyone else in the nation. From the country stylings of the Vandoliers to the jazzy notes of the BoomBachs to the experimental/electronic iill to the retro-synth-pop of Rat Rios to the rock of Pearl Earl to hip-hop masters The Outfit, TX, $kaduf, Lord Byron, Blue the Misfit and Buffalo Black, Dallas does it best.
All of the musicians put their hearts on stage, and they were met with support by Dallas music fans on Saturday. Particular standouts at this year’s showcase were Lord Byron and Dezi 5. Lord Byron took command of The Green Room’s rooftop venue and delivered an unpredictable and ferocious set to the lucky few who were able to squeeze upstairs to see him. Equally as impressive was Dezi 5 at The Door, who had the entire venue booty shaking and sweating in the dimly lit space. Here's to another excellent year of Dallas music, and to looking ahead toward the next, which promises to be even more exciting.
Saturday night was such a great time, like a high school reunion in a good way. I woke up at two o'clock in the afternoon Sunday; I totally missed church. $kaduf never records or performs high, but he did that night and it was hysterical. Wanz Dover did an all-vinyl DJ set spinning Detroit techno and really killed it. Kaela Sinclair was the real deal; "Original Sin" is such a great single and we just dig that Tears for Fears cover. Dezi 5 destroyed The Door with an incredible live band and made a great prop of the stairs. I remember thinking how lucky we are that Lily Taylor moved here from San Francisco. But everyone was great, there were no weaknesses. This was a celebration of Dallas talent. I remember having heart-to-hearts with several people and thinking, "This is where I want to spend every day of my life" — until it's time for my dirt nap.
The Deep Ellum streets were heavily congested with traffic on Saturday, as they are on most weekend nights, but on this particular night it sounded a bit different. Live music was emerging from seemingly every bar and venue I passed between Crowdus Street and Good Latimer Expressway. I was overcome with nostalgia and increased anticipation for SXSW, as Elm Street was a little reminiscent of 6th Street in Austin. This was my first time experiencing a Dallas Observer Music Awards showcase, so I did a lot of hopping around to get better acquainted with the bill of artists. I arrived just in time to catch some of Sober’s more low key set and do some dimly lit crate digging at Off The Record, before making the rest of my rounds.
Club Dada provided me the most memorable performances of the evening. Outside, the Rich Girls performed such Hall & Oates classics as “I Can’t Go For That (Oh No)” and “Sara Smile,” all while decked in tacky Christmas sweaters, Santa hats and Stormtrooper masks. I popped inside to stand in an endless line for the ladies’ room, but didn’t mind the hold music provided by Kaela Sinclair. She sang somber ballads with exceptional vocals and great backing by the rest of the band. The girl has power, I tell you, and a nearly flawless falsetto capable of effortlessly maneuvering the octave scales.
Back at Off The Record for Sober’s second set, the crowd was notably more intoxicated than during his first. It felt like a Booty Fade Thursday night at Beauty Bar, minus an appearance from PICNICTYME. I watched Ishi find their groove at Trees before heading back over to Club Dada to see Party Static. The band is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in Dallas; led by vocalists Laura Harrell and Kjersten Funk, they gave me all the grungy punk I was looking for, and I didn't even have to go to an abandoned warehouse to witness it.
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Around 10 p.m., Deep Ellum truly started to swell. But if you just so happened to be at Off the Record, you might have thought it was a usual Saturday night. The crowd was minimal and the vast depth of sound brought on by Wanz Dover — an area wizard when it comes to soul and rare electronics — got them moving and grooving. On this night his musical knowledge let loose in a crowd willing to soak it all in during a social hour. His 45-minute set was certainly a party.
Following the wax spinning from Dover was Cygnus, who got back a month ago from an intense 19-date tour with IDM pioneers Autechre. With over a decade of performances under his belt, the electronic mastermind is damn near close to perfecting his punchy, all-hardware take on acidic IDM. Cygnus took the few in attendance to a place that feels outside of time, one you can only visit during his performances. But sure enough, 11:45 came around and the next DJ took the table.
Down the street at Three Links was Lily Taylor. Nominated for best female vocalist, Taylor’s voice shines beyond the stars into a place that's warm and captivating. Backed by visuals from her husband Sean Miller, the pair creates an audiovisual experience like no other. Taylor’s performance struck a spot you didn’t see coming; from the moment viewers entered the door, they were clearly stunned by the pure, minimalist magic on display.
As we wandered loosely along Elm Street, trying to make sense of the beauty just witnessed, we could hear the wild sound of Party Static emanating from Club Dada. It punctured the mind yet again and dove right in. Oh boy were those remaining in for a ride all its own. Guitars and drums blazed throughout their performance. It was a fun, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants moment and it called for an encore. Sure enough, it happened, leaving many wanting even more on a night that could have continued long into the morning and still ended too soon.