Army of Two

The Tah-Dahs' Web site once offered the following philosophy: "If you don't like to dance, you're going to die alone." Hard science has yet to hold this out, but you have to admit they've got something there. Dancing is that liberating, all-too-rare event in local pop-rock music, an oppressively self-conscious scene in which the most movement usually involves beer-to-mouth gestures. Not so at a Tah-Dahs concert; vocalist-guitarist Roy Ivy wants you to shake it, and shake it hard.

At the close of one recent Tah-Dahs show, nearly half the audience had elbowed near the stage to dance. With Charlie Papathanasiou on bass and James Porter on drums, the Tah-Dahs' music is short, fast and full of hooks, and as a front man, Ivy drips with charm and sweat. The energy is reciprocal, of course. "The best shows we ever have are the ones where pretty girls are dancing," he says.

This is but one of the attitudes the Tah-Dahs share with The Happy Bullets, a band with whom they have forged a sort of local music partnership. The two bands often play on the same bill, and this week, they release albums on upstart label Undeniable Records, The Tah-Dahs' Le Fun and The Happy Bullets' Vice and Virtue Ministry.

"I was always interested in collaborations," says Jason Roberts, vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist for The Happy Bullets, "because it seemed to me that artistic movements are generally not started by one person but by a group of people--the Algonquin Circle, the beatniks." And though he jokingly refers to the bands' kinship as "an army of two," they're a fitting match, sharing an enthusiasm for stripping away the pretenses of pop music and getting at its dorky adolescent heart: It's about melody, it's about excitement, it's about fun.

The Tah-Dahs are a band with the cheekiness to write a song called "Mix Tape=Love" and title their album after the classic Austin arcade that Ivy claims "is partially responsible for me failing out of college." But despite that cleverness, songs like "Temporary" have a heart-on-sleeve sincerity: "Oh, baby, don't make me temporary/I've got moves to make on you, so don't you move away."

"I fall in big-time love," says Ivy, tapping out a cigarette. "I never thought I'd write a song that actually uses the phrase 'Oh, baby.' But you get to a certain age where there's not so much you're embarrassed about anymore."

That's another thing the Tah-Dahs have in common with The Happy Bullets. A group of mostly 30-somethings, The Happy Bullets are too old (or too good) to care much about being hip. At the recent tsunami benefit show at the Granada, band members Tim Ruble and Josh McKibben slapped each other high-fives between horn blasts, a kind of anti-posturing. The band's music isn't quite as high-octane as the Tah-Dahs', but their giddy '60s psychedelia practically induces a smile and a head bob. To illustrate this point, I recently played the band's new album for my boyfriend, not known for dancing outside the vicinity of open-bar wedding receptions. The experiment worked: He was soon shuffling his feet, singing along, swaying from side to side.

"What I like about The Happy Bullets is that I walk away from their live shows knowing the words to their songs," Ivy says. "There's a lot of bands around here, they're great, they're swell, and I can't hum a fucking bar."

Vice and Virtue Ministry is filled with these kinds of infectious tunes. Engineered by Stuart Sikes, Vice and Virtue Ministry is a giant step for the band, whose first album showcased all the songwriting savvy of Roberts and co-writer Tim Ruble without any real sonic precision. Truth is, the band may be the most improved in Dallas; their first shows were sometimes painful exercises in false notes and the learning curve.

"When we first started, we got a lot of friends saying, you know, we support you," says Andrea Roberts, Jason's wife, who learned bass just weeks before joining the band.

But Vice and Virtue Ministry showcases a group whose performance finally rises to its potential. As if to drive home this point, Tah-Dahs drummer James Porter offers his assessment of the record: "I'll be honest--on the first album, there's only one song I think is good," he says, leaning back in his chair. "This album is great."

Jason Roberts nods and thanks him, then asks him what only a friend (and artist) would. "Wait, you only liked one song on the first album? Which one?"

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Sarah Hepola