Murder City Devils
With Riverboat Gamblers
Granada Theater, Dallas
Friday, February 12, 2016
At 9:50 Friday night, one question that was likely being asked around the crowded floor of the Granada Theater was, “So, can the show actually get any better?” The Riverboat Gamblers had just blistered through a killer set opening for Murder City Devils, and it was hard to see how things could get any better.
For the previous 45 minutes, the former Denton-dwellers turned the classic theater into a claustrophobic punk room smeared with sweat and spilled beer. The infectious spirit and breathless speed with which the Austin transplants performed with wasn’t a surprise to most in the crowd since the Mike Wiebe-led outfit has packed clubs in North Texas for the vast majority of its almost 20-year existence. It was predictable, in fact, that the group would turn in an exhausting, exhilarating show because that is what it's done for far too long to expect anything less.
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Yet Wiebe, complete with his spastic dancing, microphone slinging, leaping and crowd-surfing, managed to give that predictable brilliance a sense of danger and tension that felt wholly unpredictable. During the Gamblers' time on stage, the Granada felt like it would crumble, though the band wouldn’t likely have stopped if the building had fallen. And the fans wouldn’t have noticed either, because Wiebe would’ve simply ascended the rubble, gulped from a couple of busted beer cans and kept his pedal forcefully smashed through the metal.
The folks crammed near the stage became a key point of the set when Wiebe decided it was time to crank the night well past 11 so as to remind everyone why his group is as fine a punk export as our area has seen in many a year. After jumping off the stage with his microphone cord wrapped around his neck a couple of times, Wiebe climbed onto the waist-high divider wall that separated the front pit area from the section of people directly behind it and continued singing as he performed an impressive tight rope-style walk along the barrier. As his mates continued to shred the stage, Wiebe also climbed the lighting rig on the left side of the stage. As he made his way up, a few guys, including noted punk aficionado and Three Links co-owner Scott Beggs, hopped onto the stage, and continued singing Wiebe’s part into his mic before he dropped lifelessly onto the bed of outstretched hands and arms a good 10 feet below him.
Spit, joy, fist-pumps, moshing, screams, claps and an utter disregard for the troubles and responsibilities of the next day all rolled into the drunken, dangerous,and seriously ripped box that was the Riverboat Gamblers set. Why would any band want to follow that?
Seattle’s Murder City Devils, another band with two decades (give or take a few years during a break-up) under its tattered belts, answered that perfectly legitimate question in the span of a few quick, loud seconds. It’s not that Spencer Moody and crew out-performed the Gamblers, because that’s just not going to happen. But it did match the Texans' energy and added a wider scope of textures, sounds and tempos. Even dressed in a preppy button-up shirt, tucked into Levis with loafers, and a smart pair of Buddy Holly glasses, Moody’s wild-ass nature manifested itself in a captivating manner. As he stumbled and strutted — he even crawled around the stage on his hands and knees at one point — Moody proved to be nothing short of an eyeball magnet.
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It was important the band provide a stunning visual aesthetic, as Moody’s vocals were more or less unintelligible. The sound in the venue was fine overall, as the lush keys and Dann Gallucci’s expertly employed guitar were crystal clear and filled the room with a dramatic presence that can’t be defined by the simple, all-encompassing “punk rock” moniker. Moody’s guttural groans and grunts didn’t soar as they do on record, but they didn’t need to. The crowd was comprised of die-hards who knew every word of every song and novices who were enthralled by every other aspect of the show. Hell, Moody’s penchant for taking the entire head of the mic into his mouth, only holding it by his teeth as he continued to sort of sing with his mouth craned open, might’ve been annoying if it weren’t so freaking cool. Maybe he was attempting to howl the Gettysburg Address? Who knows, and no one really cared.
Each time Moody took a few running steps from near the drums behind him to the lip of the stage where he would triumphantly perch himself atop a speaker, fists were raised in his direction and balls-to-the-wall American rock was staking its claim to the theater for the night. After an hour, the band seemed to still have more energy than the pumped-up crowd, but the show stopped, the house lights flipped on without an encore, which was pretty cool and a fitting end. As fast as the music had been performed for the previous couple of hours, it was all done and gone like a ghost.