Last Night: Centro-matic, The Kadane Brothers and The Theater Fire at the Granada Theater

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Centro-matic, The Kadane Brothers and The Theater Fire Granada Theater June 28, 2008

Better than: Um...a lot of things, really.

Y'know, when he wants to, Will Johnson can really work a crowd.

Sure, this night was, for all intents and purposes, Centro-matic's night: The band's riding high on the release of its split double-disc release Dual Hawks (with Centro-matic kinda-side-project, kinda-not South San Gabriel), and its performance on this night at the Granada was being filmed for a live concert DVD. And, sure, it was Centro-matic who was headlining the evening. And, yeah, it was Centro-matic who invited the other bands on the bill to open.

But, really, it was one hell of a bill. The Theater Fire and the Kadane brothers (of The New Year and Bedhead), both of which are on the verge of new releases themselves? C'mon, folks: We even went on record as saying that this show might have been the best all-area bill this town's seen all year. Despite the filming, despite Dual Hawks and despite the headlining slot, it could've been easy for Centro-matic to possibly, maybe, kinda, sorta get lost in the shuffle.

But no. Not tonight. No freakin' way. Centro-matic, as weird as this sounds, stole its own show. And then some.

The Theater Fire launched the night, which, as a whole, featured something of a mish-mash of various Dallas-area-specific genres, and, OK, let's just come out and say it: Singer Don Feagin's got a voice for the ages, just perfect for the band's southwestern noir sound. The venue's sound, however, seemed slightly off for the band--the bass levels ran somewhat amok at the band's start--but The Theater Fire coolly jogged through its set to a wholly receptive crowd.

The Kadane Brothers seemed to face similar sound concerns--the highest high from the brothers' dueling guitars' reverb was perhaps too piercing at times--but no one seemed to mind. Instead the crowd treated the brothers like music scene royalty. Launching the set with "The End's Not Near" helped; so did reaching back into their Bedhead archive for a few songs. Oh, and the new ones they previewed? The ones off the band's upcoming eponynous record? Never woulda guessed they weren't part of the earlier catalogue, really.

But all that paled in comparison to Centro-matic's marvelous performance: The band's 80-minute showcase truly dazzled.

Johnson and Co. picked carefully from their arsenal, playing tracks from the newest release and plenty of older ones, too, and, well, they played the crap out of them. Scott Danbom and Mark Hedman beamed throughout the night, splitting duties on various backing instruments. Drummer Matt Pence more than showed why he's such a repected member of Denton's production scene, his hands becoming something of a blur as he whirred through beat after complicated beat.

And then there was Johnson, smiling left and right, spinning on one leg as he strumed hard on his guitar's strings, laughing with the crowd and sharing a side of him so rarely seen on stage. He was affable, comical and forthcoming, and no more so than when he told the story of the first time he drank Wild Turkey (he was seven years old) and when he explained how to do his favorite kitchen-appliance inspired dance, "The Rotisserie" (less a dance than a jig).

The set's energy was high, and its arc was ideal. As it wore on, the band played with an increased fury unrivaled by any I've seen of late, with a constant swap and feeding-off occuring between band and receptive audience. The last three songs of the band's set were, truly, epic in grandeur. And the band's fifteen-minute encore only upped the ante.

If ever there were any questions about Centro-matic's merits, they got answered last night. Sure, there are plenty of talented acts scattered around these parts, but Centro-matic stands proudly and rightfully atop the heap. --Pete Freedman

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I'd see Johnson perform solo before around town before, but this was the first time I'd him with the full band. Same goes for the other acts.

By the way: Peter Schmidt was supposed to join the Kadane Brothers on stage for a Bedhead near-reunion last night, but a workplace injury to his hand kept him off the stage, unfortunately.

Random note: For its set, Centro-matic covered the stage with snow maru ball lights. Said Johnson: "We went to Ikea today, and we got a deal, man!"

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