Have you ever been to a gig in Deep Ellum on a weeknight that started in the daylight? It's a very disconcerting experience. The sunlight spilling in through the high windows illuminates even the furthest dusty corner of this venerable venue, simultaneously casting attractive evening shadows and lighting up things that were never meant to be seen by the human eye.
This was the problem local openers The Chloes faced, going on at around 8:30, and they tackled it with no little gusto, putting on a slinky evening show even under the glare of an unfamiliar Dada. The all-girl group showed they have no time for conceits like genre in a set that spanned punk, stoner rock, and at one point a passable impression of the Bangles on vacation in the Carribean. A local oddity that are well worth taking in at some point if only to marvel at set-closer "Put That Dick Away," you can catch April and her gang of bubble-machine wielding ladies at Lola's next month.
Next up, as the sun dimmed and Dada regained its usual air of a dark place to get drunk in, were Oakland '60s rockers Shannon and the Clams. An odd proposition, especially coming after The Chloes, but a rapidly filling Dada was only too pleased to hop to a sound that can only be described as Buddy Holly goes surf rock as the band belted out songs that would have been perfectly at home in the hit parade of 40 or 50 years ago. Rock music? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
Shannon herself had a delightful smart dress, the guitar player was wearing a bow tie and playing his guitar so far up his body I felt sure he might asphyxiate himself at any moment, and although the drummer had stripped down to boxer shorts to deal with the oppressive heat of Dada, his swing beats and enthusiastic drumming were driving the whole experience, which was one that was probably something like how our grandparents felt when they discovered amplified guitars. Given the age of some of the attendees at this all-ages show, it might be unfair to draw comparisons, but people were still putting down their thing, you know? They were dancing, but not too much dancing. It was the polite sort of boogying that the baby boomer generation would have approved of. Without a huge amount of variation, but with a catchy swing and some good hooks, Shannon and the Clams are a modern oddity, a time-warp that is only reinforced by the guitar player's bow tie. On that note, have you ever seen anything more '60s rock and roll than a bow tie that is knocked off-center by frantic guitar playing? No, you haven't.
By the time Shannon and her Clams sashayed off-stage, presumably to drink at one of the bars from Mad Men, I was confused as to how they and headliner Mikal Cronin would cohere with each other. After all, on record the two are very different propositions, Cronin layering his songs with fuzz and fury. Two songs into his set, by which point the entire band had their faces covered by the long hair that sweat had matted to it, it became clear it was all in the swing beat. That double snare hit on the second beat of every bar drove the majority of Shannon and the Clams' songs, and so it proved with the headliner too. Cronin, who looks more like an ultra laid-back teenager than a guy touring his second album after a stint playing with Ty Segall, is truly a talent to behold. Far more aggressive and raw live than either of his records might suggest, Cronin's pace never let up as he tore through choice cuts from his two albums, often adapting them to fit the full-on surf-rock style of the live set.
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With each song clocking in at two or three minutes of expertly managed pacing and volume, Cronin is simply a classic songwriter who would have succeeded in any generation. What he does isn't particularly innovative or genre-defining, but he's a song crafter whose talents far outweigh those with a great deal more fame than he has. So perfectly imagined are his songs that Dada, which by this stage is as dark as it should be and approaching capacity, defied the heat of a couple hundred people bunched together and lost its tiny mind to the relentless surf pace of Cronin's set. The politest mosh pit in history broke out among some teenagers, a development that was verging on heartwarming. Have you ever had your heart warmed by a mosh pit? I have. It happened last night. It was delightful.
One fellow, who knew all the words to everything and wasn't afraid to share that fact with the whole venue, just spent an entire 80 minutes jumping up and down, seemingly even more excited for the newer stuff than the older. Indeed, if anything, the tunes from MCII seemed to "pop" a little bit more than the older stuff, to be slightly more aggressive and danceable.
It did, however, become apparent about midway through the set that the A/C in Dada was failing to cope with the exuberance of band and crowd, as the temperature rose from "uncomfortable" to "what the fuck." This didn't detract at all from Cronin's perfectly crafted songs, in a set that absolutely whizzed by, as all the best concerts do. If anything, his songs are almost too good. He's so consistent, with such a good ear for a hook and loud-quiet dynamics that a middling singing voice that might prove to be a weakness with a lot of singer-songwriters is perfectly carried along by the amazingly listenable rambunctious surf rock that the band throws out. In this, he reminds me of Graham Coxon, whose solo career after Blur was so much better than it had any right to be that you should fire up "Freakin' Out" right now and thank me later.
In summary, Mikal Cronin is not only a good time live, he's one of the best and most underrated songwriters of recent years. Check out his new album and catch the little scamp at some point on the never-ending tour he appears to be on.