The blues scale. The electric guitar. Double-fretting. And now, my new favorite music innovation, the house show. After attending an Annex House show last night, I am convinced that the idea may be the one legitimate remedy for the Dallas music scene.
Deep Ellum is not dead. Deep Ellum is still breathing, but its breathing is a labored, emphysemic heave occuring two days a week. Music is no longer the commodity it was. Have no illusions; when Deep Ellum was at its zenith, the place was not fully populated with genuine music appreciators. A fair portion were trend-zombies who saw Singles in the theater, when live music became the pasttime du jour. The popular draw now seems to be dance clubs, throbbing with disinterested, disembodied music, four times removed from any song writer. Copies of copies of synthesizements.
With the trendies gone, and the music-appreciating populace slashed to a remnant, house shows are perfect for Dallas music fans. Like Christians of first century Rome, driven to the catacombs, worshipping in secret, without the blessing or support of the establishment. At Annex House last night, I imagined we were just that: the last true disciples of music whittled down to our eager corps.
Show intimacy is an oft-overlooked commodity. The virgin power of a house show is immeasurable, the sum of a thousand frequencies of harmonic energy wrought by the collective excitement of being an arm's length away from the the guitars and vocal chords and wooden sticks improbably mingling to create music.
Yes, give me the stamping toes of boots two feet from my knees, the reverberations of the songsmith's heels on a wooden floor, channeled up through my beer bottle. Such was the palpable communion during The Beaten Sea's opening set in the anonymous living room at 1207 Annex Ave., Dallas, TX. The Beaten Sea have a chest-full of tunes ideal for living rooms. It is bonefied porch music; a little country, a little gospel and old spiritual. As instruments were stilled, The Beaten Sea's overwhelming ingenuousness crescendoed to the collective, mellifluous wail of the three members crowded around one microphone. Unembelished. Immaculate. Rough-hewn. Perfect.
If the hopeful swell of the Beaten Sea had come over the room in waves, the next house act, RTB2, made them tidal. "Demonstrative" Jamie Wilson of the Beaten Sea always calls Ryan Thomas Becker (RTB). It is as good as anyone could do with a one-word attempt, but even a word as ample as "demonstrative" fails to encompass Becker's presence. His gesticulating, the frightening ease with which he plays, both wreckless and precise, his Screamin' Jay Hawkins-cum-verbose librarian. No one term can encompass all that. Becker's indefinable oeuvre rests solidly on Grady Sandlin's (2) unflagging backbeat. This one-two attack was, as usual, fully displayed last night. Bluesy and wild, impassioned and raw. Being in a living room with RTB2 is like being in a living room with a cyclone.
House shows may not be the ideal setting for every musical experience. The Flaming Lips might find it difficult to execute their full stage production under an eight foot ceiling. But for Dallas, for a musical culture that is strongest when its bands play with the least pomp, a house show is like a sanctuary. For last night, at least, music was given its due sanctity.