Last year, when I started hearing blatant, one-sided praise around Dallas for some Austin band called the Lemurs, I was confused. Last time I checked, this was a town where people barely fill up Deep Ellum, where people have the gall to fold their arms in disapproval at amazing Deathray Davies concerts. Excitement over an unsigned band? Here? No way.
Then the tall tales started pouring in, all thanks to a November 2005 concert at the Barley House--it was a dance party, they said, where SMU frat boys and holier-than-thou indie-rockers bonded over the music and hopped around like idiots. As Barley bartenders gushed about the show, they soon got into a nasty argument over who'd get dibs on the bar shift for the Lemurs' next appearance in a few weeks. Yow.
When that December show approached, I made a casual preview comment in the Dallas Observer--had to keep my cool. A few days later, I skipped an office Christmas party just to see what the hubbub was about, and two measures into the concert, my confusion was gone.
The Lemurs tore through 40 minutes of bright-and-shiny rock, equal parts synth, riff and shout. Mitch Billeaud led the proceedings with a near-cocky howl while shaking to his bandmates' mix of Franz Ferdinand, the Cars and classic rock. I danced and strutted like a madman the whole time, and amazingly, so did everyone else around me.
Afterward, I rushed online to find out more about these guys, but when I Googled their name, all I found were photos of animals--no magazine or newspaper stories. Why weren't Austin papers gushing about their wonder boys?
"I don't think people had heard us," Billeaud says. "There's so much to pay attention to [in Austin], I don't think anybody listened. But they seem to be listening now and enjoying it."
The quintet, who met at Texas State University in San Marcos hardly one year ago, has built a fan base quickly--proven by two sold-out shows at Austin's famed Emo's in the past month--but their short tenure belies their experience in bands scattered all over Texas (drummer Willis Deviney, a Dallas native, was an original member of 25% Toby). Luckily, the members' disparate spread of influences (Gang of Four, Led Zeppelin, DJ Shadow) mixes together without turning into a fusion-jam-techno mess.
"That's not by accident at all," Billeaud says. "I got sick of going to Emo's and watching shoegazer rock. I go out because I want to walk away and feel like, 'That was so fun, I'm glad I got my heart rate up.' For some reason in the indie-rock world we're thrown in, there's a risk of being disingenuous if you try to get people to move and enjoy themselves on that super-visceral, physical level, but that's the intention. We want people to come and dance."
It's hard not to compare the band's speedy rise--and outright catchiness--to current hipster lords the Arctic Monkeys, who have burnt up the British charts in the past month. Yet while the Monkeys will get top billing at March's SXSW Music Festival, the Lemurs have been passed by. You'd think the hometown boys would feel burnt, but as they prepare to independently release their smashing eight-song debut, Race, their humility winds up being their most impressive trait.
"I hope there's enough people that listen to what we're doing to label us as anything," Billeaud says. "We're constantly pleasantly surprised by people who like it."
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