The Avett Brothers | Grace Potter & the Nocturnals | Matt & Kim | RTB2 | Oil Boom | The Roomsounds and more Gexa Energy Pavilion June 1, 2013
The rain at KXT's Summer Cut started (for the second time) around 9 p.m., partway through Grace Potter & the Nocturnals' set. It sent half the people sitting out on the lawn running, either home or to the cover of Gexa Energy Pavilion's actual pavilion.
But a little rain wasn't stopping a group of East Dallas parents, whose spirits improved with the worsening weather. They donned garbage bags, which given how ripped they ended up can't have been much of a deterrent. That didn't matter. They sat in their rented lawn chairs and laughed, giddy from the beer and the weather and feeling self-effacing.
"We have kids," said one father. "We don't get to shows too often. We rented lawn chairs."
His friend chimed in, grinning. "Yeah, but look at around at everyone without chairs. They all look like they shat their pants."
As at every amphitheater venue everywhere in the country, the most fun at Gexa Energy Pavilion is had out on the lawn. Maybe not specifically -- the people up close are often diehards for one band or another. And maybe they get a chance to achieve live music transcendence down there where they can actually make out the expression on the faces of a band they love. But generally, the atmosphere under the metal roof with the concrete walls is much more stifled. Fewer new friends are made. Assigned seats will do that to you.
So the sound is kind of a muddy mess out there on the grass and the sightlines are crap. All these bands will play a club somewhere in Dallas in the next couple years; go to that if you're looking for nuance. What a festival like Summer Cut offers is the chance to sample some music while you spend a day inside a gated area where real-world responsibilities do not enter. That's why the best seats in the house are out in the grass, where you can smell the sunscreen and pot smoke, and the beer vendors zig-zag through the blankets. And when the rain comes, everyone just pokes three holes in a trash bag or huddles close to someone with an umbrella and the camaraderie only improves.
There were two stages at Summer Cut this year -- the big one and a small pop-up stage on the west side of the amphitheater. That's where all the local bands played, out by the food trucks and the bathrooms and the climate-controlled VIP area. It's better than sticking them on the main stage, actually, where they'd get to play three songs to a crowd leaving for a bathroom break or a beer refill between touring bands.
Instead, KXT all-stars The Roomsounds, Oil Boom and RTB2 were right where everyone was headed anyway. (The Orbans would have played last on the side stage, but the rain kept them from playing at all). These are all veteran rock bands who know how to catch the ear of someone who never thought he'd listen to local music. They also all brought fans, and if you're a regular listener of KXT you've heard them all anyway. So theirs were surprisingly triumphant sets.
Oil Boom, playing between Dawes and Matt & Kim, started with an audience of maybe 50 scattered, unfocused people. They drew those people close and earned the cheers of several hundred more. The Fort Worth trio is prepping a 7-inch for release later this year -- they sounded particularly crisp on Saturday, adding nimble guitar work and hairpin rhythms to the Americana I've heard from them in the past. They certainly had more fun than Dawes. The L.A. band takes great pride in the perfection of their live shows -- in the half dozen times I've seen them I don't think I've ever caught a missed note or errant entrance. That precision is important. It allows singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith's detailed narratives to envelop his audience.
So they were visibly frustrated with some technical issues early on and slightly detached until the end of their half-hour set, which nevertheless hit the highlights from their three excellent albums. During penultimate song "It's A Little Bit of Everything," the crowd was dotted with rapturous fans mouthing every word. Goldsmith sang, "I think that love is so much easier than you realize/If you can give yourself to someone, then you should," and a man extended his hand to the woman sitting beside him.
Summer Cut was a good place to take a date this year. The lineup was full of romantics of all flavors, from the small gestures of Dawes to the grandiose ones of The Avett Brothers. There was the chemistry and enthusiasm of actual couple Matt & Kim and the hippy lust of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, whose two biggest hits involve the repeating phrases "Ohh-la-la" and "I've got the medicine that everybody wants," over and over again.
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Admittedly, some 80 percent of songs ever written are love songs in one way or another. So maybe it was more than the bands on stage that gave Gexa such an amorous vibe this weekend. Maybe it was just the goodwill generated by a summer afternoon in what must surely qualify as a green space by Dallas standards.
Either way, it was a good day to be in Fair Park (unless you are The Orbans, in which case it was kind of a bummer of a day). Matt & Kim, who had the first of three hour-long headlining sets, remain the most consistently enthusiastic musicians I have ever seen. They must prepare for shows like athletes -- the wattage of their personalities onstage could power the Technicolor Omni. I picture them bouncing on the balls of their feet, yelling encouragement at each other in the green room, before someone opens the door to tell them it's time and they sprint out, screaming.
They were the most dynamic performers, as they are on pretty much any bill anywhere, but the rest weren't far behind. Dawes was the last band of the day to basically stand behind microphones and play, and they were only a quarter of the way through the schedule. Grace Potter spent the entire hour with her hair flying behind her frantic movement. Ryan Thomas Becker, of RTB2, was at one point playing guitar while lying on his back. Seth Avett has a hip shake so mighty it might still be capable of raising eyebrows on network TV.