What you see above is a Jeff Liles-filmed two-fer from Joe Ely's extraordinary, intimate "Storytellers" performance at the Kessler last night: Dig All Night's "Behind the Bamboo Shade" followed by Ely's rendition of the immortal "Dallas," penned by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and originally released as the one and lonely Flatlanders single in 1972. I've heard the latter hundreds of times -- performed by, among others, Gilmore, Ely, the Flatlanders, Jack Ingram, even David Byrne and 10,000 Maniacs and R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock and Billy Bragg. And always it hits me as The Perfect Song about our city -- just the right amount of flattery and damnation.
It's too bleak, too honest to serve as An Official Anthem, of course -- that part about how Dallas is "a steel and concrete soul with a warm-hearted love disguise, a rich man who tends to believe in his own lies" just ain't catchy enough to fit into a convention and visitors bureau promo. Still, I think school children should have to sing it in class every morning, right after they say the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. It should be the telephone hold music at City Hall. It should be sung before every Mavericks game and mayoral debate.
I've heard Ely perform the song in other cities -- in Austin a few times, even once in L.A. But when he sings it here, he does so in front of an audience that knows (most of) the words, that's in on the joke hiding behind the performer's grin. (It's like hearing X perform "Los Angeles" in Los Angeles -- it just makes sense.) A highlight in a set full of 'em last night -- like I told the man afterward, Joe Ely's the Texan I wish I was writing about the Texas I wish I lived in.
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