The Antidote to Dallas' Love Affair with Shiny New Things
Dead Prez drops in: Just another night at Prophet Bar
In a town that pays actual respect to the glitteriest, shiniest new thing on the block, it's easy to take the classics for granted. I generally regard my distaste for nostalgia as a positive thing, but the test of time is not easy to pass and must therefore be honored. Like a worn-in t-shirt or a faded old denim jacket, there are some nights in this town that will wait for you, welcome you back with open arms and cold drinks as if you had never left to begin with.
Dallas always looks its most beautiful on these early Spring patio days. That nip in the breeze at night makes staying out past sunset all the more enjoyable before the melting summer begins. We could cover Dallas' variant patios in a million different categories but when I imagine an evening under the fuzzy North Texas stars, I immediately reach for The Amsterdam Bar.
Bad Ass Jazz on Monday nights at The Amsterdam likely aren't anything new to you -- you have been with friends under the amber light of the bar's interior or made your way under the twinkling tree in the backyard. You have photos of their bartenders lighting shots on fire. But maybe it's been a minute, and maybe with the band moving into the back patio on these lovely spring evenings there is some renewed reason to return to the classic. On a recent Monday, I find my plans cancelled and do exactly that.
Same as it ever was, I run into friends on the patio of Pizza Lounge and see The Ochre House gang outside of The Meridian Room. Now a food truck routinely sits outside of The Amsterdam. The Bacon Truck of late. So there are some new additions.
In the backyard, The Bad Ass Jazz combo does some rotation from week to week but the chemistry between players is always consistent. The improv is long and satisfying on a night I ordinarily reserve for exercise and grocery shopping. And depending on the instrumentation of the night, the influences run from traditional to international. A recent visit's evening featured some strings that called on something vaguely Eastern as the combo traded sixes.
Wrapped in a cardigan, I relax against the fence that lines the community tables. I can see a group of friends sharing a bottle of wine on the rooftop to the right and a colorful cat paces back and forth along the fence's top. I nurse my bourbon and try to promise myself to start my week this way with more frequency.
If Bad Ass Jazz Nights are my favorite concert t-shirt, then the Wednesday Night Jam Session at The Prophet Bar is an all-out security blanket. Every week, R.C. Williams and The Gritz Band lead a productive evening of jazz, funk and hip-hop built for special drop-in guests, though they aren't necessary. The band is always tight but is maybe the sexiest on the nights where celebrity rumors don't plague the crowds or the set-times. It can make for a late school night, but it's always worth the espresso the next day. William's builds the session like foreplay. A mellow jazz chord builds to a funkier hip hop groove, back to an R&B section heavy on the keys and hits a peak somewhere in a gospel neighborhood.
Just when you think it won't get any better, Claudia Melton gets on the microphone to lend vocals to the mix.
It's a special kind of church, these jam sessions. Every time I come it's been too long since my last visit and the decision to go a little spontaneous. The melodies and refrains are recognizable but are a constant variation on what you know.
Melton is a blessing and her arrangement of Jill Scott's "A Long Walk" on a recent Wednesday is an answer to prayer I didn't even know to submit. I know I am not alone, because I can see all the hands waving around and the necks twisting in the room.
It's not just the band doing the work though; DJ Jay Clipp has long been holding down the room on Wednesdays at Prophet Bar and is a necessary part of the formula. His mix keeps the room upbeat between sets and never settles into a predictable formula. Plenty of new stuff peaks in and out but it's when he drop the old, like really old Jay-Z, that I see the room perk up.
I never make a request, but when Clipp asks if there is something we want to hear, Beyonce quite naturally comes up. Left to his own devices, he puts on the recent and strangely controversial "Bow Down," during a trill-ier part of his set. If it counts as a smirk, it works. Choices like this mixed deftly with old-school selections and beats keep his work impulsive and appealing.
And it's why the Wednesday Night Jam Session at The Prophet Bar is a complete diet when so many nights in town can feel like a snack. A great crowd, a capable bar and some of the city's most impressive musicians make for more than a concert. It makes for one of the longest running weeklies in the city and one of the more superior ways I can suggest to spend a Wednesday in Dallas.
I will always have my eye out for the next big tacky glittery thing in this town. But if the next big thing turns out to be short-lived, or too timely for this world, it's nice to know there are places us gypsies can always go home to hear a song and share a drink. The sparkle may not twinkle as bright, but it seems to last a little longer. And that's worth plenty in this fickle town.
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