Centro-matic With True Widow and Cliffs of Insanity Kessler Theater, Dallas Saturday, June 14, 2014
Early on in Centro-matic's Saturday night show at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff, a shout from the middle of the comfortably crowded throng provided with a well-timed bit of levity -- and a healthy dose of understatement.
"You guys are above average!" declared the unidentified voice. The crowd burst out laughing and even the venerable indie-rock band was stopped in its tracks. The foursome chuckled and thanked the hometown gathering which was there to welcome the band's splendid new album, Take Pride in Your Long Odds. After two weeks of touring across the country to promote the record's release, Will Johnson, Scott Danbom, Matt Pence and Mark Hedman were, indeed, well "above average."
Dallas' thundering True Widow performed just before the main attraction. The trio of Dan Phillips, Nicole Estill and Slim TX seemed to be off their game at various points in terms of locking into a tight rhythm, but their brand of melodic sludge still bounced off the walls of the immaculate theater to mind-altering, hypnotic effect.
Much like the recent victory laps taken by revered North Texas acts such as the Old 97's and the Toadies, Centro-matic's show felt like a celebratory homecoming disguised as a mere concert. For a band that's still evolving and producing at such a high quality 17 years into its existence, a night of appreciation from locals, many of whom have watched the band from the beginning, was warranted.
The band was of course great. It's basically a foregone conclusion that Centro-matic will be nothing short of stellar onstage. The four guys that make up the band are well-rounded pros that play, produce and engineer for other bands and artists, but Centro-matic is home base for each of them and the comfort they feel inside such confines was apparent Saturday night. They mixed songs from the new album with a handful of numbers from 2011's Candidate Waltz (which likely stands as their greatest work, even with the stiff new competition) and even a few older cuts that long-time friends and fans seemed to take extra pleasure in.
Not surprisingly, the group eagerly showcased its freshest material. Pence's dramatic drum beats lent "Every Mission" a power that even the fine album version doesn't boast. But it was the seamless manner in which the group transitioned from punchy, punker tunes, such as the keyboard-heavy dance-rock of "Salty Disciple," into slower, more soulful material like "Estimate x 3" which was the greatest example of how tight this band is. In fact, on Saturday night, the group was tighter than a sealed zip-lock bag that's been stapled a couple dozen times and then wrapped with industrial strength duct tape. That kind of tight.
In the middle of the set, the band presented its rawest, boldest power when Danbom stepped away from his keyboard and grabbed the bass guitar from Hedman, who took over lead guitar duties to present a straight-ahead, full-blast rock band formation. Rockers "Mercedes Blast" and "Calling Thermatico," an urgent, grizzly tune from 2006's Fort Recovery, were offered during this impressive section of the show and the crowd roared its thanks for the deep dig into the back catalog.
Though the three-song encore featured another older tune, the beautifully executed "Flashes and Cables," it was the final song of the regular set that really gave the evening its take-away theme. The slow burning, pensive "Through the Fog, Then Down," the song that closes out the new record, was nothing short of brilliant. The band of studs built tension for four minutes or so, only to enter into a spacey, wildly anthemic jam that was focused yet thrilling.
Simply put, Centro-matic can do what most bands can't, and when that's done in front of an adoring group of followers, a special occasion happens automatically.