It all began with a pile of wires and cables, configured onstage in what looked like a visual manifestation of every preposition, as they snaked about, above, across and around amp heads and keyboards, effects modules, samplers and mixers, plugged into speakers and drum machines, synthesizers and microphones. Vintage this and brand-new that, mysterious machines stacked at odd angles or copulating via male/female plugs. On the one hand, this Dada-esque pile of electronic gear maintained its own particular logic—all that stuff had to mean something—but on the other, it was chaotic and disjointed like the innards of an obsolete, discarded IBM computer.
Somehow, in three little pockets of open space between all this stuff, the band members of D Numbers had carved out spots for themselves and more recognizable instruments: guitar, drums and bass. As they plugged the final plugs and programmed the final loops, the Cavern started to fill up nicely for the early (in rock 'n' roll terms) time of 9 p.m. on a weekend. As folks strolled in the door, most did double-takes at the strange sight onstage. You could tell which of the clubgoers were musicians, as they'd do a double-take, then stop as their brains processed what they saw; then they'd turn and crane their necks to take a longer, better look.
And then it began: waves of laptop glitch rolling softly but with increasing speed over synthetic notes, some strange theremin-type device providing a snaky backdrop. After a few seconds, the rhythmic stakes were raised, as each band member flew into a synched-up groove of activity, a ballet of fingers pressing buttons; arms strapping on basses and guitars, then removing them; torsos bending wildly to the beat; feet stomping on pedals. Paul Groetzinger's live drums supplied a time signature from outer space, while Ben Wright's guitar work grooved like Chris Squire on three kinds of acid and four kinds of funk. It was the strangest dance music I've ever heard. Seventy percent of the room couldn't help but rock their torsos in synchronicity with the trio; the other 30 percent, the musicians who'd stopped at the door, stumbled wide-eyed toward the stage like zombies, subconsciously lured by the specter of 7/4 time.
Full disclosure: I know the band. I used to cover them at my previous job in Santa Fe, where they're from. In fact, when I heard they were here and playing their first-ever Dallas show, I swore to myself I would not cover them in the Observer, lest it appear to be some bit of journalistic impropriety. But by the end of their five-song set (it could have been six; sometimes it's tough to tell with experimento-prog-disco-dance-electronica where one song ends and another begins), when a crowd that had never heard them and who were only onto their first or second beer, a crowd that for the most part had not even come to hear them, a crowd that didn't even know who D Numbers were, cried out for an encore, I realized it would be irresponsible not to write about them. They were just that stunning.
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But what was even more stunning, and what gave me such hope for Dallas music, is what came after their set. D Numbers, you see, had been thrust last minute to the forefront opening slot of one of the most tantalizingly eclectic lineups of the week, maybe even the year. D Numbers broke down their equipment—and it must have taken twice as long to do so as to play their six songs—to make room for a band that couldn't have been any more different: Somebody's Darling.
Somebody's Darling didn't take much time at all to get their gear up and ready. Compared with miles of cables and anvil-heavy organs, a couple of guitars, a bass and a simple drum kit seem pretty straightforward. Shit, the most complicated piece of equipment for this rig was the pedal for the kick drum. And man, did they look the Southern rock part. All were clad in jeans and tight T-shirts. Hunched over a Les Paul and sporting a three-quarter-sleeve baseball shirt, long hair and a lean body, lead guitarist David Ponder had his '70s arena god persona going strong. You could practically see the ghost of a young Pamela DeBarres hovering above the stage (I know she's not dead, but her 15 minutes of fame are). Compared with this straight-ahead quartet, D Numbers, in their thrift-store vests and ties, might as well have been from Mars. Or, you know, Denton.
All this before Somebody's Darling even struck a power chord. You'd have thought that once that Les Paul got to churnin', the crowd that had so loved the bizarre Western invaders would have cringed at SD's classic rock aesthetic and turned their backs or escaped upstairs. But they didn't. Somebody's Darling fans began to pour in the doors, but the early crowd remained. And they were rewarded for it: Though it only took three people to produce D Numbers' convoluted choreography, it took four people to mesh Somebody's Darling's simple elements into a shotgun blast of straight-ahead rock. Farris' voice is as simple as D Numbers' jams are complex, and in that, its singular, transfixing power was all the more stunning. Farris sounds like Janis Joplin, Loretta Lynn and k.d. lang all singing out of the same throat—full of verve and volume and country-rock splendor. The rest of the band, meantime, provided a perfect bed of tight Skynyrd-esque tunes, speckled with Ponder's classic fills and chugging chords and anchored by Nate Wedon's (bass) and Adam Carter's (drums) rhythm section, as primal as a Rebel Yell. This is the music that was pouring out of a Camaro's windows just before Reagan took office. This is the music that made the cover of Rolling Stone when it was still relevant. This is music with a history, perfectly rendered. This is also music that never should have followed D Numbers.
And thank god it did. It was like the Bloods and the Crips sitting down and having a barbecue, this melding of genre and sensibility. Any preconceived, calcified ideas about who or what makes great music were drowned out by joyful hollers; any attitude that might have sneaked its way in was relegated to the lost and found. Any musical risks that were taken—by bands and fans alike—were rewarded, leaving us all in a state of halcyon bliss that harked back to less jaded times. Hopefully, it was also a taste of the future.