Mike Brooks is a longtime Observer concert photographer who has shot seemingly every type of artist at every type of local venue. Here he breaks down five of his favorite concert photos.
Five pictures, five stories. Or, 10 pounds of talent in a 5-pound bag.
I’ve been lucky enough to photograph some of the world’s most famous bands in some of the biggest venues in Texas, but today I want to talk about something way more fun. Shooting music in small clubs. Seeing talented people play music in an intimate setting beats that 20,000-seat show hands down. You can fight me on that, but you’d lose. Here are five stories that prove it:
1. St. Vincent at the Kessler
A Dallas girl, playing in her hometown, right as she transitioned into superstardom in 2011. I’ve shot her a number of times since, but none were as special as this. I could tell that she was getting to be a pretty big deal because she had a "Tour Manager" with a capital T. Thirty seconds before the show, he saw me, walked over and asked, “Who the fuck are you?” I was way too shocked to answer what I wanted to, “I’m Mike Brooks, who the fuck are you?” Luckily she started playing before I could dig that hole. I spent the entire set hiding behind tall people, and got some pictures I treasure to this day. After the show the Tour Manager with a capital T made a halfhearted attempt at making nice. He told me he needed to approve anything before I could post it and then never responded to my email. In the meantime, the Observer ran the writer's shots with his review. It would not be the last time I was yelled at by a tour manager.
2. AWOLNATION at the now defunct Prophet Bar
This shot makes me giggle every time. The band liked it too and bought a copy for a small demo release (for "Not Your Fault"). They scratched out everyone’s eyes (on the photo) so they didn’t have to track them down and have them sign a release. Their version was funny too, but this is better. Two seconds before those girls up front lose their innocence, I was standing on the side stage for this shot. Next time I saw the band, there were 15,000 other people involved, a barricade to keep the crowd 10 feet away from the stage and a three-song limit for photography. No shots like this could've happened.
The Virgin Wolves were so good — a band for whom you would drive all night in the motherfucking rain. Remember Hailey’s? Remember smoking in bars? Remember Jaimeson with dark hair? Remember playing drums naked? Life got in the way, but for a couple of years they were the best show in town. At least all these kids are still alive and doing well, unlike Hailey’s. Nights like this are why you want to keep up with local music.
4. Grimes at Index Fest, Deep Ellum
Gosh darn it. Why can’t we have nice things? The first Index Fest set up in the parking lot behind Trees. A stage at each end, surrounded by Deep Ellum. I heard that there were noise complaints. That raises the question of who would move to Deep Ellum and complain about loud music. I’m not sure how old Grimes was at the time, but she looked about 14. She’s gone on to do OK. Next time I saw her play was at the American Airlines Center in front of 18,000 people. Now she’s having a child, and I’m feeling really old.
5. The Flash Boys with Nick Curran, Deep Ellum
I liked this band a lot. They were punk as shit. I liked them so much I drove down to Austin one weekend to see them play in front of about 25 people. I didn’t see every show they ever played, but that seemed to be a pretty good draw for them. That’s disappointing on a number of levels, the biggest being they had Nick Curran on guitar. Nick had it all. The guitar chops, the look, and the attitude of a full-on rock star. I guess he cemented his legend by dying young in 2012 of cancer. I don’t remember what club this was. Right across Elm Street from Deep Ellum Tattoo. It kinda sucked, then it closed, then it opened again under a new name but it still sucked. Go through that cycle about five more times and you’ll arrive at 2016. This night the Flash Boys played before about 10 people. Me, the sound guy and eight dudes from the other bands. They were late driving up from Austin, and the sound guy pulled the plug on the mic after about seven songs. They played half a song using the kick drum mic for vocals before that was also turned off. I told you they were punk. Anyway, that started a riot, but with just the nine of us, it really couldn’t gain critical mass. They probably lost money just paying for gas to and from Austin. Which is really punk, right? RIP Nick, but good riddance to that shitty club.
Those are the stories for today. Five shows, five experiences that you can’t get at the AAC or Jerry World. Five reasons why people need to support live music at small venues. You may see young talent turning into stars, you may meet great people who just turn into friends or you may see talent like Curran before it’s too late. Either way, these are the best music memories. Fight me.