In on the Ground Floor

I live in what, upon reflection, is a kind of bizarre part of town. I live in the gargantuan South Side on Lamar building, and I know you know which one that is, because if you are anywhere within a 100-mile radius of the south side of Dallas, you can't miss it: the giant neon rooftop sign, the distinctive red bricks of what was once a Sears catalog warehouse/receiving/shipping/whatever center, its footprint stamped on block after block.

It's bizarre for many reasons, but perhaps the most notable is its isolation. Cut off from downtown by Interstate 30, flanked on the west side by a particularly stinky stretch of the Trinity River and on the other sides by long sweeps of abandoned industrial decrepitude, the South Side on Lamar has much to offer on the inside, but the outside remains stark. When it comes to food, or a place to drop in for a beer, or a spot to catch a small show by a local band, well, the neighborhood pickins are rather slim.

Which is not to say there's nothing. It's actually a cool part of town; it's just not quite inhabited yet. Still, Poor David's Pub relocated there, as did Bill's Records. The Gilley's/Palladium complex provides some rock 'n' roll energy, and there's a bar and a music-focused coffee shop in the South Side building itself, and across the street is the restaurant Amuse.

But the best neighborhood joint is Brooklyn. I meandered into the "jazz café" a few evenings back in search of nothing more than a glass of wine and some appetizers. In fact, I was dreading having to shout to my dining companion over crappy New Age-y jazz, to which maybe five patrons were listening. And when I turned from my barstool and noticed the young-looking, skinny dude with a short, puffy 'fro, clad in a brown, sort of flow-y shirt and a man-necklace setting up his guitar gear, I figured my fears had been realized. When I saw the five-string bass sitting in the corner, I figured I'd better eat my crab cakes in a hurry and get the hell out. That shit may work for Jill Scott, I thought, but it's not gonna work on Lamar Street.

I've never been more wrong. Turns out, the guitarist was Montrose, quite possibly the coolest cat in Dallas, definitely one of the most underrated. Brooklyn, which relocated from Oak Cliff about a year ago, is an ideal spot for hanging out and laying back. It's large but intimate, with no real stage to speak of, red painted brick walls, beautiful bar, down-home service. The food's not so great, but it's got this whole Huxtable vibe that serves the music well. Hunched over my plate, I had my back to the band when I heard the first rim shot, courtesy of the dreadlocked female drummer who goes by the name of Pocket. From there the five-string bass kicked in, strong and mellow, as the rhythm section overshadowed the cheap-sounding keys. Hmmm. I swirled around on my bar stool in time to see Montrose casually fiddling with his amp, twisting effects knobs, tooling around with pedals with absolutely no urgency whatsoever as the band jammed behind him. Interesting.

I looked around the room and saw that all eyes were on him; these folks obviously knew what was coming next.

Finally, Montrose began to play. At first just spacey chords, surrounded by parentheses of reverb. But then he began the foreplay, lithely fingering the fretboard and picking up speed until the room filled with a gorgeous mélange of airy jazz and fuzzy rock, soul licks and flares of Hendrix, all of it backed by a rhythm section as solid as Stonehenge. Montrose's guitar strings bent to his benevolent will, as did the crowd. My forgotten crab cakes congealed on the plate.

Montrose, I realized, was one of those special breed of musicians. He just oozes music, and his laconic coolness is not an affectation at all but rather a complete and utter comfort living amid the language of free-form jams. He's transfixing and genreless and somewhat psychedelic, thereby garnering comparisons to Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Hendrix. He is a hidden secret of Dallas, surrounded by a cadre of insanely good musicians, and he should be famous. I suggest you check him out before he is.

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Jonanna Widner
Contact: Jonanna Widner