This past Saturday night, the Gas Monkey Bar 'N Grill in Dallas lived up to the name of the television series that features its owner: car repair reality show Fast 'N Loud. With full sets scheduled from Austin's Hank Senior-recalling, honky-tonk hero Wayne "The Train" Hancock (on the venue's indoor stage), and an outdoor, main-stage set by stoner-metal giants The Sword, the night was packed with myriad Texas flavors, sounds, sweat and vibrant energy. Honky-tonk and metal might seem like strange companions, but on this night, what seemed like a thousand people taking up the three main areas of the sprawling venue would disagree.
The Gas Monkey opened in mid-2013, taking over the old Firewater space near the I-35 and Northwest highway interchange in Dallas, just a few miles east of the Las Colinas business district. And in appropriate fashion for a venue named for an auto garage that performs almost magical auto transformations, it's almost impossible to tell the place used to be the generic Firewater Bar and Grill that closed a few years ago. A rustic redesign with a variety of woods and chain-link fencing creates an industrial, yet still comfortable vibe throughout. It surely would've been easy, and perhaps understandable, if owner Richard Rawlings and his crew had decided to simply go for a full-on themed restaurant and cover the place in mufflers, girlie-posters and auto signage, given his show's popularity on the Discovery Channel (now in its fourth season).
There's a gift shop where one can buy all sorts of Gas Monkey Garage merch, but the place stands on its own. Even the venue's website doesn't focus on the venue's attachment to the hit show, instead focusing on the varied shows they have on the roster in the coming months: Against Me!, Cody Canada, Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, Tab Benoit and Scott Biram, among others.
On Saturday night, a thick swarm of humanity filled the venue, and the place swelled with a party vibe and electricity not found when visiting a Hard Rock Café with your family on holiday weekends.
The indoor show with Hancock, which took place on a stage in the back of the restaurant section with a big, bright TEXAS lit up behind it, started after an impressive opening set by Gas Monkey server Jessica Gordon. She stuck primarily to covers, but did so with a voice that was plenty sweet, touched with a bit of character-lending ache to it.
By the time Hancock hit the stage with his three band mates wielding an electric guitar, pedal steel and a massive upright bass, dozens of people were dancing at the stage's front, completely blocking the view of the folks sitting at tables near the stage. An hour before, they might have thought they had the best seats in the house.
Hancock headlines most rooms he plays, and here in Dallas, has played to some sizeable crowds, including many at the Granada Theater. With he and his band in rockabilly high-gear, it felt almost dangerous (but awesome) to be so close to the stage with my backside near someone's dinner table as I and many others shimmied about to the thumping bass and Hancock's signature, high-pitched nasally wail.
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With a few pints of the venue's self-titled lager downed, it was time to check out the Sword on the large outdoor patio. Similar to the old Firewater, the stage backs up to the small lake that separates the venue from the road that leads to the other establishments of that block. The trek from the restaurant's indoor stage to the outdoor patio stage required passing through the party-in-progress bar section, where it was evident that bikers, metal-heads, frat boys with their most recent mixer date and couples of all ages were there to make bad decisions that seemed right on Saturday night. Indeed, many in the bar weren't there to talk about cars, or even to see one of the two fantastic bands. Such an element is rare at pretty much any live music venue in town, except for a notable few that can draw folks there for food and drink alone (such as Sundown at Granada, Love and War in Texas and The Rustic).
Outside in the perfect night weather, at 11:00 p.m., The Sword were tearing it up. We expect nothing less from a band that has toured with Metallica and markets their own beer and hot sauce. The sound was clear, as it had been so inside, and the crowd was sizeable but friendly.
Many venues in the past have admirably attempted to be all things to all people, and typically fail under the weight of their own hefty visions. Gas Monkey Bar 'N Grill has their own twist on that conceptual dream: To be most things to certain people who love cars, choppers, outlaw country and various forms of metal.