"It's like the good ol' days," said a colleague of the casual atmosphere preceding such a highly anticipated event--the New Bohemians' first show in more than three years--remarking that the loose mood and smattering of would-be hippies and various hangers-on had imbued Deep Ellum again, if only for a second, with the giddy spirit of old. And, true enough, for such a high-profile show there seemed to be little to indicate this was anything more than another local band loading in for another local show on a low-key Sunday night--no vans, no roadies, no egos, just the unmitigated glee of five people playing together for the first time in a long time, hoping the rush from their momentary reconciliation would sustain them through this night.
And, indeed, once the New Bohemians filed onto the stage and guitarist Kenny Withrow ran his hand across his guitar, evoking a sound that still reverberates throughout the streets of Main, Commerce, and Elm at closing time, it seemed as though the New Bos had never disappeared. It was as if drummer Brandon Aly, who was playing with the complete band for the first time in more than five years, had never been fired during the recording of Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars; as if their second record, Ghost of a Dog, had not stiffed; as if they had not broken up; as if Edie hadn't gone solo and married Paul Simon and become a mother.
The New Bohemians had come home to help raise money for Jahliese Blount, the 4-year-old daughter of a friend, Jahdene Blount, whose murder last September seems to have torn at the fabric of Dallas' not-so-hidden hippie culture. Jahdene was a longtime friend and fan of the band's, and her death--she was stabbed in the neck in her home, her body discovered the next morning by Jahliese--galvanized the so-called Rainbow Family into holding several benefits, drum jams, prayer circles, and other activities that all led to the New Bos' shows on Sunday and Monday nights.
Sunday's event, then, was part concert, part love-in: as people filed into the club, there was more hugging going on than at a Leo Buscaglia book signing. Small children were nestled in their parents' arms; candles, not lighters, were thrust into the haze of smoke (this, despite the NO SMOKING signs posted everywhere because of Edie's own six-months-along pregnancy) and incense; and every other person was swaddled in tie-dye. It was like a giant family reunion, a homecoming, a wake, and a concert blended into one homegrown affair.
But with any event preceded by so much hype, it ultimately failed to live up to monumental expectations. Performing most of Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and a handful of older songs, the band sounded as it always had--riding the crest of Brad Houser's bass lines and Withrow's meandering guitar riffs and Aly's funky-drummer playing and John Bush's percussion and Brickell's sly vocals, giving new meaning to the word jam. Yet once the New Bos took the stage and made it through two or three songs, all sense of immediacy seemed to dissipate.
They were at the very least sabotaged by a sound system that sounded like a donated sound system: all night, during sets by openers the Cartwrights and Brave Combo, the pounding bass mix had been overbearing, and during the New Bos' set it only grew worse till it grew painful till it grew unbearable. And for a band that relies on the subtle, complex combination of Withrow's guitar, Brickell's voice (which did sound clear, pretty, and piercing), and John Bush's percussion, it all but sabotaged whatever momentum and magic the night might have spawned. It was as if someone had thrown a brick through beautiful stained glass.
But the sound alone was not the problem. When the band took the stage, the crowd's reception was loud, but not overwhelming; when the New Bohemians launched into "What I Am," the song that provided their ticket out of this town, the club didn't vibrate with excitement, didn't even buzz. And rarely did Edie speak to the crowd, offering only the occasional "Thanks, y'all." It seemed almost as though the New Bos were, once again, just a band, for better or worse--people listened to them but talked over them, people applauded but with a restrained passion. It was as though for many in the crowd, just to be in Trees among friends was enough, with the music a mere backdrop to an event larger than the reunion of a band time remembered.