Last Night: Purity Ring/Bethan/Peopleodian/Datahowler Club Dada November 7
Better than: anything else happening on a Monday, that's for sure.
A four-act bill headlined by a touring international act is very strange for a Monday, but sadly that's how things go for post-Fun Fun Fun Fest shows in Dallas. It's sad not because Purity Ring didn't put on a great and entertaining show, but because having a show at Club Dada on a Monday is never going to make for a packed house.
A crowd did exist, though, throughout the performances of Datahowler and Peopleodian. Braving the $10 cover charge and tearing themselves away from the Monday night NFC showdown between the Bears and Eagles playing behind them, they looked on as Peopleodian, curiously well dressed, belted out their playful DS-10-powered songs. Following Datahowler, the varying use of electronic sounds in Peopleodian's set seemed to make sense on the bill, or at least in theory (more on that later).
Next up was Jessi James' solo-project-turned-band, Bethan, whose songs are live iterations of a series of multitracked recording sessions with New York-based producer Roger Greenawalt. The band, despite having four supplemental instrumentalists, still served as a showcase for James' notable vocal talent. Bethan jumped styles wildly from folk-leaning tracks to songs with four-to-the-floor indie dance sections to legitimate reggae songs and somehow avoided being off-putting. The fairly recent Spune signing did a good job of making what are almost completely drum-free recordings into a palatable live performance in which the drums were actually a highlight. There seems to be no shame among the band members in being backup pieces to James' voice, nor should there be, because it is very much her project, and she carries the music with her rich, throaty soprano singing and confident stage presence.
The final act was Canada's Purity Ring (Corin Roddick and Megan James of Gobble Gobble), and their performance was in a category of its own. Not quite a band, not quite a live PA project, this act blended elements of witch house/drag, future bass and indie folk with performance art and DIY synthesizer/light rig construction into a highly entertaining and extremely well-rehearsed format. Case in point: a bizarre contraption Roddick built out of brass tubes bent awkwardly in different directions so as to form a sort of golden, leafless tree. It appeared to be decoration until the show began, at which point Roddick began playing it like a drum pad, producing different pitches depending on which branch he struck. The device actually did turn out to be a drum pad of sorts, with contact microphones triggering MIDI notes that were connected to a synthesizer. Roddick was also very adept at looping, cutting and distorting Megan James' voice on the fly using his other, non-DIY MIDI controller, making for a very live and very dynamic performance from the vocalist.
The vocals themselves, apart from being intermittently mangled into a digital cacophony, were haunting and skilled soprano tones coming from James, who also took turns manning both the MIDI tree and the sequencer, as well as her own personal bass drum.
The skill with which Roddick and James put together their set, both sonically and visually, was indicative of a level of preparation and seriousness that is seldom seen in modern indie music, much less in Dallas/Fort Worth. But it wasn't only their preparedness and talent that stood out - it was their mindset, which brings up the aforementioned parenthetical point.
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The collaboration between Spune and We Denton Do It put together a bill that, as previously mentioned, made sense on paper, what with the organic/electronic blends and the experimental nature of all the bands. It could be argued, however, that Purity Ring would have been a better fit alongside local acts that err more on the side of similarly intense experimentation - ones that involve DIY gear or incorporate more performance art or have a darker, less traditional edge to them.
In short, the first three-fourths of the bill made sense together, but the last act would likely have been better suited playing with some truly avant-garde local acts that perhaps the folks at Spune and We Denton Do It either don't know about, or simply aren't interested in booking.
Personal bias: I could think of at least six local bands that would have been perfect alongside Purity Ring. Also, it goes without saying, booking at least one of those bands would have brought out even more people who would have really appreciated what Purity Ring was doing.
Random note: It was quite a relief to see an NFC East Division rival get taken down during a week in which the Cowboys won handily.