Hoo boy, do our heads ever hurt. Well, they hurt yesterday, at any rate. Today's a little bit better. But we're still not totally sure where all these bruises came from. Which means, yep, it was a pretty successful Dallas Observer Music Awards showcase. (We had fun anyway. We hope everyone else did too.) It was the biggest one we've had yet, with 60 bands spread throughout nine different venues throughout Deep Ellum, providing local music fans with a full eight hours of uninterrupted live music -- and a pretty nice warm up for a holiday season.
As we gear up for the DOMA awards ceremony that takes place Tuesday night at Granada Theater, the DC9 at Night team decided to pause and look back at the showcase passed. Here are some of our personal highlights from the night and reflections on the Dallas music scene.
H. Drew Blackburn
We threw a party, yeah we threw a party. People came over, yeah, we threw a party. And it was grand. To see all these people come out for the love of local music and also a great time was tremendous, but we'll save the tears and hugging for another time. We bounced from club to club to see some wonderful performances. Party Static at Club Dada was a delight. There's a raw element to their performances. Sizzling guitar work and boisterous rhythmic drumming light the candles and pour the wine for a gleeful dance-garage-punk affair. They're like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but without the pretension that goes hand-in-hand when your band has it's roots finely planted in Oberlin College and downtown New York culture. Rather here, what's expressed is our very own Deep Ellum culture, a fine mix of gregariousness and plenty of attitude. Co-lead singers Laura Harrell and Kjersten Funk bounced off of one another with infinite electricity, shouting back and forth, jumping and dancing, pumping the room full of energy so thick it may as well have been some type of liquid nitrogen substance that forces you to dance, or at least move your feet and wiggle your hips a bit.
My night wound up being split between the trifecta of Dada, Three Links and Reno's. Unconscious Collective sounded powerful as they pummeled through a set at Reno's while Dallas Uber Alles delivered a fun set of Dead Kennedys tunes. Panic played one of the best sets I've seen them do yet, kicking off with "Still Ill" and ending with "First of the Gang to Die." They were tight and wasted little time, trying to play as much of that enjoyable Morrissey mope they are known for. But the highlight for me was Sealion, who got a packed Dada to dance (including the man, the myth, the legend, Big Jon Daniel) to their surf-driven punk. I've seen this four-piece get a small crowd hopping at Bryan Street Tavern and the Annex House, and it sure was nice to see them play for an even bigger and appreciative audience.
The night started early, and I couldn't believe we had a Gorehounds show going before most people were eating dinner. Some fear that the whole night would be sparsely attended, but as 9 o'clock rolled around bands like Party Static and the Phuss started to get something going...by 10, folks were out in full force. I didn't make it much outside of the Trees, Three Links and Dada triangle, but Dark Rooms, Sea Lion and Ishi all had wall to wall crowds. Best fun was just seeing everyone out and about, blending seamlessly from audience member to performer to audience member.
The diversity of the Dallas music scene was in full effect Saturday night -- live proof that the Dallas music scene is not only healthy, but putting showcasing a both young and old guard in fine form. I spent my evening bouncing around from club to club checking out segments of bands I've seen throughout the year, but it was nice to have a good chunk of the scene all hanging out in Deep Ellum. Unconscious Collective was the weirdest spectacle I saw all evening. A fantastic display of jazz-metal fusion that captivated everyone in the room. Gorehounds were fun as usual with a more sober audience than usual due to their earlier time slot. How is it that we have a Cramps tribute band in Dallas, anyway? A really convincing Cramps tribute at that. Regardless, it was a nice way to kick off the night.
War Party and Party Static had a full house for the early evening slots at Dada and both really charged up the room for a fun rock show vibe. Def Rain got low with their surreal mix of dream pop and hip hop. If we are going to have a tribute band, I am glad we have a Smiths tribute band in Panic. I am biased by nostalgia, but it's really nice to hear those songs played by a band in a live setting. TX Connect brought a nice vinyl-fueled house thump to Off the Record. It was great to see the always-consistent Cutter play to an appreciative audience glad to see them back from a short hiatus. And then Pinkish Black was a fantastic way to end the evening outside at Dada. The music was the perfect late night music especially outdoors under a clouded nighttime sky.
Popping in and out of the DOMA shows, scavenging for the endless potential behind every venue's door was particularly fruitful around the fiery hour of 10 o'clock. As Dezi 5 reigned over the stage at Trees with a commanding stance emanating from every cell, quite literally ordering you to party and let loose, the audience tossed around three giant balls as his song "Dallas, Bitch!" became a precise anthem for the city pride that brought all music lovers out for the night. Across the street at Three Links, the sound of Dark Rooms' nocturnal symphony attracted passersby who fled to singer Daniel Hart's carnal violin solos like mindless Hamelin mice. The venue was absolutely packed, so some settled for peeking in from the street. Even the sound guy couldn't help but dance. Shortly after, at Club Dada, Ishi hosted possibly the biggest party of the night, one where the band and audience morphed into a wildly intense force. In a scene of collective ecstasy, as ice spilled on the stage from the vibrations of the speakers, the crowd jumped up and down in unison while singing the catchy shout-along chorus to "Mother Prism".
While the party raged throughout Deep Ellum in clubs, bars and even on the street, the wildest night was in the air. The roof top patio of The Green Room took on the air of a tent revival, such was the energy of Denton's Hares on the Mountain. The Danger Folk (TM Hares on the Mountain) group had the roof shaking as DOMA showcase revilers couldn't help but be caught up in front man George Neal's spell. It was loud, it was sweaty and when the group's microphones cut out in the beginning of their set-closing performance of "Matty Groves," it grew frenetic with Neal walking into the crowd to belt out the song from a standing, a sitting and finally a laying position. Later that night the roof did feel like it was going to cave in as Mayta seemed determined to burn that bitch to the ground with their fiery, spirited set. There was dancing, there was yelling, there was tequila shots, and damn it if I didn't wish it was still going on. You might have enjoyed a set in the back of Dada, but you missed having an experience in the air of The Green Room.
Watching the Stevie James Trio at The Prophet Bar was refreshing despite the fact that I am a neophyte to blues music. Guitarist and vocalist Stephen Ketner's banter was a history lesson on the blues genre and an explanation of the band's sensibilities. To this point, it became really hard to argue against the SJT's deep-running nuances. Also, I saw Ketner do a guitar solo with his teeth, so there's that. Next door at, er, The Door, it watching Blue, the Misfit made me think about how rap is perceived and what it takes to be successful. You need a certain presence to make it at the national level. Watching Blue on Saturday night made me realize the kid has IT. Whatever the likes of Waka Flocka Flame and Kanye West have, Blue does too. Now if only I could find some Strongbow anywhere in Deep Ellum...
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It's crazy how much can change in a year. Since last year's DOMA, the Dallas music community has grown by leaps and bounds. Put your finger on the pulse of any one scene in particular and the beat is sure to be much improved over 12 months ago. Take Yells at Eels for example, the Dallas jazz trio mainstay who are nothing if not the most consistently rewarding (live) act in the city. In the past year, drummer Stefan Gonzalez has bloomed into a figure of consummate versatility: Musical curator, educator, percussion-and-voice soloist (Orgullo Primitivo) and rhythmic linchpin in a handful of other acts (including jazz-rock fusion trio Unconscious Collective). Older brother Aaron Gonzalez, also a music educator and Unconscious Collective member, has continued to firm up his chops on bass, a year improved from where he was last year. And father Dennis Gonzalez, a year on, is still doing what he does best: playing the trumpet better than anyone this side of anywhere.
Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Last year, I found myself at DOMA in a Deep Ellum bar watching the best act of the showcase: Yells at Eels. This year I found myself in the exact same circumstance (OK, different bar), watching the best act of the showcase: Yells at Eels. As per their M.O., the trio found a means to surprise. Firstly, Dennis was in rare form, even fiercer than usual. In all the times I've seen him play (perhaps a dozen or so), his voice has never escaped so beautifully from his instrument; there was real fire in his breath on this night. Secondly, the surprise inclusion of a second percussionist, Jagath Lakpriya, added additional tonal depth, if not outright fireworks to the performance. Lakpriya's grasp on the notoriously difficult tabla (think: Indian bongos) was majestic. In no uncertain terms, the highlight of the event came by way of a call-and-response improvisation between the dual percussionists, a true exhibition in the meaning of musical synergy that left all of Reno's reeling.
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