Suburban tweeners rock out to mall punk, DFW's hottest musical export. No, really.

With its rolling hills, lush green grass and meandering drives—all far removed from the Spring Creek Parkway drag where it's located—the Plano Centre complex hardly appears a natural home for a rock show.

The sterility of it is jarring. From the outside looking in, it appears to be simply a park. Only there's a massive building plopped down right in the middle of the property, a 33,000-square-foot structure originally built to house conventions of the type a city like Plano stands a chance at scoring, which is to say,conventions on knitting and the like (really).

There is no marquee, no flashing lights, no huge signs pointing out the space. No skyscrapers in sight, either—just a city of Plano water tower nearby. Inside, the high-ceilinged rooms and hallways feature carpeted floors, a rookie mistake if ever there was one for a rock venue. But, strangely, the room has no discernible smell, and its floor has no sticky spots or beer stains, which makes sense when you realize that, hey, the vendors here don't sell beer.

Yep, pretty much everything about the place screams "suburban"—from the school-like architecture to the hunched-over Knights of Columbus members ambling about for no apparent reason. There is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, nothing rock 'n' roll about the Plano Centre.

Yet, somehow, right here, on a recent Sunday afternoon, teens giddy with excitement are descending upon the complex just as they have almost monthly for the past five years, adorning this peaceful landscape with flecks of DayGlo neon and jeans so tight no one over the age of 18 would dare wear them. And even though it's early—a little after noon, and the venue doors won't open until 3—the underage crowd already numbers in the hundreds. Their reason for showing: An eight-hour, 21-band rock concert to be held in this decidedly un-rocking place and featuring bands with off-the-wall names such as Red Car Wire, A Bullet for Pretty Boy and A Bird a Sparrow. The bands all sound somewhat similar to one another with minor tweaks: One's a little more hard-edged; one's a little poppier; one's a little more alternative. But they all boast the same sugary-sweet guitar riffs and hooks.

In the uncomfortably full lobby, the teenage attendees pass the time chirping at one another, complaining about the fact that the people running the show won't yet allow them full-on entry into the makeshift, three-stage concert hall. Behind them? Another line, this one almost 100 yards long and three Hot Topic outfits wide, extends toward one of the complex's many parking lots.

Out here—almost mercifully—a brief semblance of mischief: Pockets of teens too cool to stand in line (and yet uncool enough to purchase tickets and show up hours in advance) sneak cigarettes when no one's looking and chide their younger counterparts for looking at them cross: "What are you, 12?" a boy no older than 16 shouts at a group of tweens giving him the stink-eye. "What do you know?" It is by far the closest this crowd will come to a confrontation over the course of the afternoon and evening.

High drama, really.

The parents, dragged by their offspring to help pay for their entrance, stand out clearly—they're older than 18, for one; they have the sheer gall to wear colors not found in highlighters, for another. They dutifully stand in line too, looking about as bored as can be, eagerly anticipating the point at which they can leave and get on with their own Sunday afternoons. Kids, their body language screams, holding back shrugs and eye rolls. What're you gonna do?

One set from Flower Mound especially appears to have checked out, only here because their daughter needs their credit card to pick up her pre-ordered, $15 ticket. But of any detail beyond that, they remain blissfully unaware.

"She's here to see some band," they say to another set of parents.

Which one?

"Not sure."

Well, there are, like, 20 on the bill. This show's gonna go until 11 o'clock, at least.

"Oh, great. So we actually got a good deal!"

Yeah. Less than a buck a band. Good point.


It's important to point out that these aren't just any bands.

For lack of a better descriptor, these acts are the latest proprietors of the mall punk scene, performing power pop, for the most part, and music that's been influenced heavily by the pop-punk sounds of the late '90s (like Blink-182 and Sum 41) and the emo sounds of the early '00s (like Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World). And their choice of genre is indicative of a greater trend happening here in Dallas and beyond. But here's the key: Of the 21 bands that played that Sunday afternoon show, dubbed May Madness by its booking and promotions agency Third String Productions, 10 were local products; most of the others, meanwhile, employ Dallas area management or production teams. And that's not just some coincidence.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman