Last Night: Fair to Midland and The House Harkonnen at Curtain Club

Fair to Midland, The House Harkonnen
Curtain Club
July 12, 2011

Better than: your average Curtain Club show.

Lest anyone was concerned that Deep Ellum has softened in recent years, that it has turned its back on its hard rock- and metal-intensive past or that the neighborhood's heavier genres had fallen by the wayside, Fair to Midland and The House Harkonnen made a strong case for the opposite last night.

Curtain Club, seemingly forever the hub for Deep Ellum's heavier side, was alive and well on this night, its standing room areas surely over capacity as crowds willingly squeezed themselves into the cramped space, which, despite its reputation, still boasts a fine stage, and impressive light system and, aside from maybe Trees, the best sound system in the neighborhood.

With its plethora of Cabe Booth-painted murals and its long-running legacy, the venue brings with it a certain cache of its own -- one with which few of the bands that normally grace its stage can stand toe to toe. Such has never been a problem, though, for either The House Harkonnen or Fair to Midland, two bands that in many ways grew up playing this stage, and two bands that, on this night, proved themselves not only as vital cogs in the area music scene, but as heroic entities as well.

Fair to Midland, rightfully, was prepared for such. Celebrating yesterday's release of their quite good new album, Arrows & Anchors, the progressive and experimental metal favorites triumphantly took the stage shortly after 11 p.m., a weight almost visibly off their shoulders now that the four-years-in-the-making disc was finally out of their hands. Yes, the band was ready to revel in these new tracks -- so much so that the five-piece opened with "Dance of the Manatee," the band's by-far biggest hit to date, from its 2007 Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True album, and barely looked back afterward.

Yes, it was an Arrows & Anchors-heavy night -- and for the better. New material such as the punishing "Musical Chairs," which in particular highlights frontman Darroh Sudderth's almost inhuman ability to switch from soft singing to screaming to throat-singing instantly, and the backwoods-endearing, banjo-employing "Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow" were obvious highlights, as this die-hard audience was long familiar with the new album's respective lead single and free preview download.

But pretty much everything else scored, too, as the band, awash in strobe and flood lights, thrashed in every conceivable direction, their energy levels clearly not fazed by the fact that they, like everyone else in the swampy room, was covered in sweat before they even took the stage.

Indeed, a Fair to Midland show is an assault on the visual and auditory senses -- there's so much to see and so much to hear, it's tough to keep up. And those are just the normal sets. This one came with additives: Additional players dressed as druids joined the band to sing one song's chorus; for another, they ascended to the room's balcony, leaned over the rails and smashed away on marching band drum kits above the floor crowd's head; later, during new song "Rikki Tikki Tavi," those same druids lowered fake snakes from the balcony, too.

That last ploy was just the beginning of another gambit, though; as the chorus for "Rikki Tikki Tavi" came, the druids began shaking the snakes, which then fell apart, splattering their innards -- in this case wads and wads of one dollar bills -- all over the room.


Fair to Midland made it rain in the Curtain Club. Fitting, too; as live shows go, no one on the Dallas music corner has swagger like them.

Actually, their closest competition on that front was their opening act on this night, Arlington's The House Harkonnen, the bruising, rather straightforward four-piece that plays its songs with blistering speed and uber-confident stage postures. Tragically underappreciated as one of the top live bands in town, HK only continued to make its case for a bigger audience during its set last night.

Unfortunately, on this night, given Curtain Club's size, no one else could've even fit had they tried.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Few bands anywhere put as much thought or effort into their live shows as Fair to Midland, who, for whatever reason, kind of get a bad rap in the local scene. Those naysayers clearly have never seen the band live.

Random Note: Cabe Booth's painting in Curtain Club deserve their own in the Dallas Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, if such a thing ever gets built.

By The Way: Keep an eye out for the next print edition of the Observer. I'll have mroe on the new FTM album in that issue.

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