The old-timers about town would have you believe that Deep Ellum was maybe the single greatest place in the world some 15 years ago, right at the height of the neighborhood and the area music scene's tandem peaks.
And, hey, maybe it was.
But, y'know, some of us weren't of drinking age 15 years ago. And some of us don't like living in the past.
Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase
So, at this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase on Saturday, we present something of a compromise — the chance to see some of the scene's best bands from both then and now, on one night.
Actually, in the case of the final three bands playing our main stage at this year's event, they never really lost their statuses as top dogs. Thanks to strong recent releases, the Toadies, the Old 97's and Centro-matic are still on top of their games. A show featuring just these three bands would seem like enough of a treat — especially considering that this weekend's showcase also boasts the distinction of being the first-ever shared bill between the Old 97's and the Toadies. Yes, ever. But it's just the start. In total, 52 of the region's most talented bands will perform on 10 different stages throughout Deep Ellum. Among this lineup, no doubt, are the scene's future and current stars — talents as diverse as Sarah Jaffe, RTB2, Whiskey Folk Ramblers, The Burning Hotels, Hunter Hendrickson and Power Trip. Read all about each of these performers in the blurbs below.
Plus, with a single wristband purchase granting you access to all these shows — $15 a pop in advance, $20 at the doors — maybe it'll feel a little bit like the Deep Ellum of yore once more. Who knows? The neighborhood already seems to be trending that way.
Clearly, as this list of performers proves, the talent never left. For one night only, maybe it'll feel like the crowds didn't either.
Perhaps the most dominant artist in the history of the Dallas Observer Music Awards — prior to this year's voting, she's been nominated for 11 awards and walked with the prize each time — the 25-year-old Denton-based folk singer is starting to branch out into new directions with her new The Way Sound Leaves a Room EP. Slowly but surely, Jaffe's music is trending in a more electronic and dance-inspired direction. Her endearingly intimate, soul-baring approach to songwriting, however, remains unchanged.
Perhaps the most unappreciated crown jewel in North Texas' musical cap, this Denton four-piece is the model of consistency. Remarkably prolific is the name of Centro-matic's game — the band has released a combined 16 LPs and EPs since 1996, not counting the various releases from the band's side and solo projects — and, clearly, the process is working. This year's Candidate Waltz full-length release may be the band's best-ever recording thanks to its intricate songwriting and gritty, in-your-face rock appeal.
After regaining some lost momentum and re-embracing their alt-country roots on last year's The Grand Theatre, Volume One release, the Old 97's continued their impressive return to form with the second and final volume in their Grand Theatre series this summer. Seemingly content and satisfied with their role and identity at long last, the Old 97's are back on top of their game.
The hard rock regional heroes of the '90s went away for a bit in the early '00s. But since reforming in 2006 for a performance at the annual Observer-hosted Greenville Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade after-party, the band's been acting like they never left: In 2008, they released No Deliverance; last year, they released for the Dallas-based Kirtland Records a re-recording of their 1997 album for Interscope Records that never was, Feeler. This month, after a few years of touring and performing before the biggest crowds of their career — and once again happily trotting out favorites such as "Possum Kingdom" and "Tyler" —the band is returning to the studio once again.
Prophet Bar (Small Room)
One-time Polyphonic Spree member and current piano-toting solo artist Andrew Tinker has been a big draw in Denton for a few years now. The college crowds have trouble resisting his happily pop-trotting ways; given the sheer exuberance on display in his live performances, it's not hard to see why.
The big knock on Altobelli is that he's never written a song he didn't release. And, with three full-length albums released under his name since 2008, that's difficult to argue with. The good news: Despite the small windows of downtime he's allowed himself between those releases, his songwriting has shown significant growth on each subsequent effort. His increased confidence shows on this year's Radio Waves and Telephone Wire, which features a guest appearance from Whiskeytown's Caitlin Cary.
The Naptime Shake
If it's literate, historically grounded songwriting you seek, look no further than The Naptime Shake. Highlighted by the heartfelt songwriting of former Observer staffer Noah W. Bailey — backed here by members of Slobberbone, Pleasant Grove, American Werewolf Academy and Doug Burr's backing band — The Naptime Shake's music slowly but surely sneaks up on you right before it quite literally screams for your attention.
Whiskey Folk Ramblers
Pleasingly combining the Gypsy-punk appeal of Gogol Bordello with a noirish Wild West aesthetic may seem an impossible task, but, somehow, the Whiskey Folk Ramblers pull it off. Live, they're a force to be reckoned with; as their name implies, this isn't a band afraid of debauchery.
Grant Jones & The Pistol Grip Lassos
Like Lucero before them, Grant Jones and his Pistol Grip Lassos somehow make gritty barroom rock feel sensitive, despite the genre's inherent raucous nature. Credit Jones for that and for not letting his aesthetic outweigh his storytelling aims.
Prophet Bar (Big Room)
The Singapore Slingers
The Singapore Slingers' recent rise is confounding and understandable at once — confounding because, well, the band revels in the highbrow, oft-forgotten ragtime and big band genres, and understandable because it's an 18-piece and, if The Polyphonic Spree have taught us anything, it's that Dallas loves the spectacle of seeing a large outfit perform live.
Former Paper Chase ivory tinkler Sean Kirkpatrick's current three-piece endeavor travels a different path; whereas the Paper Chase reveled in doom, Nervous Curtains revel more in gloom. Brooding, emotional and angst-filled, Kirkpatrick may be the closest thing North Texas has to its own version of Nick Cave.
With the release of their 2009 debut, Landmarks, Air Review immediately showcased their radio-friendly pop-rock chops. The songs off their upcoming America's Son EP, however, show the band heading off into a more delicate, less bombastic direction. The ploy is clearly working; the title track off the band's impending release is already the most requested song in the short history of KKXT-FM 91.7 KXT's existence as an indie-adoring, local-friendly station.
It was something of a heart-warming moment at last year's Dallas Observer Music Awards ceremony, when the duo of Ryan Thomas Becker and Grady Don Sandlin took home Best Group in the reader-voted awards, beating out groups such as Midlake, Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights and Ishi in the process. It reaffirmed the belief that old-school promotion — playing in front of anyone and everyone as often as possible and wowing all comers with some animated, straightforward rock 'n' roll swagger — can still be a successful model in today's increasingly Internet-centric music age. And it confirmed what everyone already knew: There ain't many bands that can match RTB2's sonic assault.
Ornate instrumentation, epic builds and cathartic releases are Telegraph Canyon's calling cards, but the Fort Worth-based favorites are hardly your run-of-the-mill outfit playing to a formula; this is a versatile band, one that's as comfortable playing acoustically out among their audiences as they are behind a booming P.A. Currently hard at work recording the follow-up to their 2009 breakthrough, The Tide and The Current, expect this band's area popularity to only increase in coming years.
Yells at Eels
After years of going unjustly ignored by the area jazz community, Yells at Eels has found a fan base, interestingly, in the area indie-rock realm. The important thing is that at least some people around here are finally paying attention to what the international jazz community has known now for years: As improvisational, experimental jazz goes, few can match the prowess shown by Dennis Gonzalez and his sons Aaron and Stefan.
Like Norah Jones before her, Tatiana Mayfield is a product of the esteemed jazz program at the University of North Texas. Unlike Jones, Mayfield and her live band are jazz purists: Theirs is not jazz for the Starbucks crowd, but for those who prefer their jazz the old-fashioned way.
Damon K. Clark
Damon K. Clark is a jaw-dropping talent, a gifted vocalist whose talents are near-unmatched locally. Jazz is his chosen realm and it's easy to understand why: Performing live before bare-bones jazz set-ups, his absurd range is given the front-and-center showcase it so ridiculously deserves.
Fox & The Bird
With the release of their three-years-in-the-making Floating Feathers album, the rotating performers in Fox & The Bird finally have a record to sell at their merch booth. Enjoyable as that disc may be, though, this is truly a band to watch perform live; if their multiple-part harmonies don't sweep you off your feet, the crowds singing along to the band's catalog will. Metaphorically, of course.
On their debut Dog's Light LP, released earlier this year, Bravo, Max! showcased themselves as a band unafraid of instrumental experimentation and sensitive lyricism. That, however, all stems from the band's biggest strength: frontman Johnny Beauford, who may be the most promising young songwriter in the region.
A nine-piece mariachi outfit from Denton? Makes more sense when you realize that the band's mostly UNT music program alums. This isn't your average Mexican restaurant outfit — although, OK, the band does that, too.
Were it not for Joey Liechty, the man behind the Yeahdef moniker, it's tough to imagine where the Denton DJ scene would be at the moment. An impressive promoter, Yeahdef's greatest strength is his ability to spot trends before they happen: Well before indie rock started recycling the sounds of the '90s, Liechty was hosting a weekly night of songs from that decade up at Hailey's Club.
A former touring member of both The Polyphonic Spree and The Flaming Lips, Daniel Huffman is making a name for himself these days with his experimental brand of psychedelic electronic music. And, clearly, he's learned a thing or two about live show spectacles on the road, performing most of his sets while wearing a mask and backed by visual aids.
After establishing himself as a Frisco-dwelling mashup artist who had quite an Internet following, Ross Edman has changed two-fold, moving to Deep Ellum and picking up a new, futuristic jazz sound. His live set-up now includes a drummer and a guitarist in addition to a slew of electronics.
These formidable area electro-sleaze favorites seemed to have been dealt quite the blow earlier this year when two members bolted over creative differences. If anything, though, the split seems to have re-energized the band's remaining members, who have recently started work on a new batch of songs. The important thing: The live show is still basically one huge dance party.
Once a post-punk outfit with undeniable hooks, the Burning Hotels' latest, self-titled affair finds the band mining a new, more new wave-inspired direction. The hooks are still undeniable, though; insanely catchy, too. Long a fun band, expect the rest of 2011 and 2012 to belong to this suddenly dance-inducing four-piece.
With the release of their free-to-download When Pigs Fly album back in March, Paris Pershun and Slim Gravy established themselves as a local hip-hop duo worth watching. Since, though, the fellas have hardly rested on their laurels. A string of new, similarly free-to-download singles have only garnered the group more attention in the national hip-hop blog circuit. Rightfully so: Theirs is an inventive, but still distinctly Dallas-bred, take on the genre.
Wanz Dover has been playing various forms of outsider music in the region for years at this point, having taken interesting stabs at space rock, post-punk and dubstep. But the area in which he's most consistently brilliant is in his DJ sets, wherein he spins (yes, actually spins) classic and hard-to-find soul and punk records.
The Mohicans are still brand-new, without even a mixtape to their name. No matter: The hip-hop duo has still managed to impress with its handful of posted-to-the-Internet singles, the best of which, "Fa Shiggadow," finds the band capably presenting itself as the first proper post-Boogie rap outfit in town. Bold stuff, but these dudes do it well.
With the release of their Indie Sampler download earlier this year, Angelo Gonzales and his backing band took the next step in their continued progression from straightforward hip-hop band to, well, something greater than that distinction. galleryCat still endears with fun tracks like "Say Say Say," but now they sample indie rockers like Cage the Elephant in their stage shows, too.
Tim Locke may be the most underappreciated songwriter in town, which may be why there wasn't a bigger to-do made of his 2009 announcement that he was calling it quits or his 2010 announcement that he was coming back with new material in tow. Regardless, it's a good thing he did: He and songwriting partner Jordan Roberts crafted a deliberately paced indie-pop gem with this year's Heavy Sugar release.
Frontman Peter Black is currently working on a more ambient solo release, but don't discount his full band's output: This Fort Worth-based outfit, heartily endorsed by Ben Harper, is one of the best bands the region boasts, thanks to its pop- and country-tinged rock tunes and unshakable hooks.
Madison King ain't no girly girl: The lead-off, title track on Darlin, Here's To You, the alt-country singer's debut full-length from earlier this year, paints her as a beer- and whiskey-swilling woman whose greatest fear is last call. The disc's not as completely brash and in-your-face as that song would have you believe, but the live show tends to be.
The Bone (downstairs)
New Science Projects
Dale Jones wears bloody face paint when he performs, and, if that weren't startling enough on its own, it sure feels like it when he jumps off the stage and runs right up into his audience's mugs and screams his lyrics in their faces. Technically, his music falls in the folk and blues realm; because of the way in which it's presented, it feels far more like performance art.
If The Black Keys had a sense of humor and a few extra members, they'd probably sound a lot like Oil Boom, a recent bluesy area upstart that isn't afraid to get a little tongue-in-cheek with its lyrics. See: "There May or May Not Be Blood," a swaggering cut that finds the band only half-threatening its audiences.
Dallas has boasted its fair share of funk-inspired, Lenny Kravitz-aping outfits over the years, but Ducado Vega feels like the real deal as he sing-speaks his verses over beefy riffs that lead up to shout-along choruses.
Rhymin' & Stealin'
Three MCs, one DJ and a twist: Sure, everybody knows pretty much every word to every Beastie Boys song, but the dudes in Rhymin' & Stealin' had the idea to turn that talent into a tribute band before you did, so there. Insanely popular because, duh, everyone loves the Beastie Boys, these guys aren't nearly the joke group you'd expect; they put a lot into their performances, and it shows.
Hunter Hendrickson isn't yet old enough to drink, but he can sling an ax like nobody's business. Taking cues from the blues and classic rock stars before him, Hendrickson's music still seems to be searching for a little definition. But there's no denying his abundant talent.
The Bone (upstairs)
Not nearly as Ivy League as their name might suggest, this Denton house show scene-sprung band pairs massive, ambient guitar riffs with angst-filled vocals to create a blend that walks the line between the deceptively pretty and the subversively gritty.
From the ashes of Denton's adored The Marked Men come Mind Spiders, the latest project from area garage and power-pop mastermind Mark Ryan. Featuring a slew of Denton punk rockers behind Ryan — including members of Bad Sports, Video, High Tension Wires and The Uptown Bums — Mind Spiders are as close to a Denton punk-rock supergroup as you're likely to find. They sound like one, too.
Out of nowhere, it seems, this Dallas-based four-piece became the local music scene's favorite band over the course of this summer. It's not hard to see why: If Vampire Weekend went to community college and preferred surfing and skateboarding over knit scarves and Lacoste shirts, this is probably what they'd sound like.
You could make a strong case for Spooky Folk's Kaleo Kaualoku being among the best songwriters in the region — especially after hearing "Bible Belt," his phenomenal take on the tribulations of a Dixie upbringing. And that's before even mentioning the four other members of the band, each of whom contributes greatly to this versatile band's invigorating live shows.
Thanks to often off-the-rails and unpredictable live performances where they'll quite literally say anything just to get a rise out of the audience, Soviet may very well be the most abrasive band in town — not a bad distinction considering that this Weezer- and Japanther-adoring outfit was mostly unheard of before the release of their phenomenal Forever Today EP at the beginning of the calendar year.
Elm Street Bar
White-boy blues is a thing that still sometimes happens, and for the most part unfortunately. But Tweed EQ do it right: Frontman Robbie Saunders is a total trip, both on- and off-stage. The dude straight-up lives the part, forever present in body but, from time to time, not necessarily in mind. Maybe that explains the psychedelic bent on the band's genre take.
Bleeping electronic soundscapes and lilting, undulating vocals courtesy of Ally Jayne Hoffman combine in Peopleodian's output, and it's an interesting blend to be sure. There's a lot happening at once, but, somehow, the song's arrangements feel restrained. In other words: Peopleodian sound like a fever dream, which in this case is a good thing.
Technology has flat-out transformed the modern concept of a one-man band, and Matt Leer's Diamond Age project serves as direct proof, especially in live settings, as Leer handles his aggressive electronic music by offering live guitar, vocal and synth parts, while triggering his percussive and other electronic elements on the fly thanks to his extensive set-up.
Wanz Dover's Blixaboy outfit was playing its particular minimalist take on dubstep long before the genre was cool on this side of the pond, and you can tell. This ain't "brostep," not even close. This is music that's far better suited for lounges than for the furry-boots set.
Hardcore is alive and well in Dallas thanks to Power Trip, the Fun Fun Fun Fest-approved area outfit led by proud area genre purveyor Riley Gale. The band cut its teeth on the defunct stage of the revered Red Blood Club in Deep Ellum, and it shows: Their live shows are aggressive, energetic and as engaging as all get out.
Reno's Chop Shop Saloon
The Red 100's
Red 100's guitarist and frontman Robbie D. Love doesn't just look the Jimi Hendrix part on stage; he sounds it, too. Straddling the line between blues and psychedelia, this outfit is young but promising. They can straight-up play.
Warbeast sound tighter and heavier and more sure of themselves than any three-year-old metal band has a right to sound, and with reason: They aren't newcomers to the scene at all. Featuring members of the legendary area thrash-metal outfit Rigor Mortis, Warbeast ain't messing around. Neither are acts like GWAR, Every Time I Die and Down, who've enlisted Warbeast's talents as an opening act on tour.
White Arms of Athena
Once upon a time, White Arms of Athena found themselves playing the pop-punk circuit — not because the band's sound aligned with that genre (it doesn't) but simply because that's where they knew they could find fans. The progressive metal band's ploy worked; these days the band has transitioned into the area metal market and is quick becoming one of the scene's bigger draws.
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The punk rockers in Missile know the power of a strong visual. Leather jackets? Check. Fancy, practiced rock star posturing? Of course. An impressive lighting backdrop employed at every show? You bet. Good thing the band's got the audio side of things down, too.
The Gorehounds are everything you would expect out of a Cramps tribute band. Maybe more than you'd expect, actually: Clad in genre-bending attire and complete with bikini-clad backup dancers, this collection of Dallas-area punk rock veterans puts their experience, know-how and penchant for spectacle to good use in this project.