Friday, August 29, 2008

How did we let Springsteen leapfrog Nirvana?

Two things have happened in the past week. First, I renewed my affection for music made between 1990 and 1996. Second, the democrats have been holding their election year convention in Denver. I was watching Joe Biden's speech, and the overeager applause, when it occurred to me how funny it is that the new generation is listening to the generation before last. Old, dried-up hippies are the new heroes for people in their twenties.

It's safe to say Nirvana wouldn't have shared the same enthusiasm. The band mocked The Youngbloods' call to "try and love one another right now" at the opening of the Nevermind song "Territorial Pissings." Mocked it, because, as children of divorce, they didn't much want to believe people who talked about love. They rightly called into question a generation who spent so much energy trying to let everyone know they cared for people when, in fact, they were so self-absorbed that they ended marriages for the sake of their own happiness.

In the 1994 film SFW, the cynical catch-phrase of "so fucking what," at one point a valid response to a shitty situation, becomes comodified to the point of meaninglessness. At the end of the film, the phrase is replaced in popularity by "everything matters," which becomes equally commercialized. Life has officially imitated art, so now we sing Springsteen again and talk about the change that's just around the corner, about the dignity of work, about the importance of self-sacrifice. All of these are virtues. But how confident can we be that the next generation won't be mocking our hypocrisy?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Weekend Roundup Pt: 2 - The Toadies @ The Palladium - 8/22/08

My (over?)-analysis of the appropriateness of venues continues with my take on what I'm calling the biggest homecoming of the year. Biggest, because I might as well apply a superlative to a show I got to attend, and because I don't think Sam the Sham has planned any forthcoming reunions.

Dallas is not well-suited to homecomings. The city's combination of a transient populace and me-first ethic make loyalty a bygone virtue in North Texas. But alterna-rock memories are still burned into the consciousness of Big D show-goers from the early 90s. A good lot of them have spouses, houses, and kids in suburban school districts now, but, as I saw Friday night, a Toadies reunion can still draw them back to the Dallas epicenter.

Let's be honest, once the early 90s buzz wore off, Dallas was not overly kind to The Toadies. A period of seven years separated their much-lauded Rubberneck (1994) from their unfairly derided Hell Below/Stars Above (2001) and people lost interest. The local radio didn't help. When I spent my first summer in Dallas in 1997, there was still a Q102, and plenty of Toadies on the airwaves. Four years later, Q102 had been replaced by a Clearchannel sinkhole and the Toadies could not buy local radio support. The low point of summer '01 had to be the 97.1 sponsored "Big Freakin' Deal," a festival name that was no doubt brainstormed by two middle-schoolers with a bag of whippits. The festival offered a foul lineup of butt-rock bands--Staind, Saliva, Cold--all of which received ample pre-festival promotion, and the Toadies. At a hometown show that should have been The Toadies' prodigal triumph, the band was relegated to opening for Rammstein. Despicable.

When The Toadies released Hell Below/Stars Above, They were still trying to build on the success of Rubberneck and establish themselves as an important, current band. As I said, interest and loyalty waned and the band imploded. The band is more grown up in 2008 and have fewer illusions about themselves. Lisa Umbarger has been replaced by Doni Blair of Hagfish, another longsuffering Dallas musician, and band members still have other ongoing musical projects. They do have a new album, but The Toadies know that they exist in people's minds primarily as the group from 1994, evident by the Rubberneck-heavy setlist from Friday night. The band is reformed undoubtedly for making cash, but I believe they are also back for that synergy they once had with fans, something that time, corporate radio, real-estate developers, and disloyal fans have eroded. Something that came back to life again at the Palladium last Friday.

The Palladium is the wrong place for any band with a soul and especially for a band like The Toadies. The place has a dozen flat-screen TVs piping images from the stage, $6.00 beers, and bartenders dressed in uniforms. Rock and roll shouldn't be allowed in the same building as a uniform. But even the Palladium with all its plastic luster couldn't diminish the effect The Toadies had on the place. It was a case of "My musical chaos can beat up your grabby capitalism." And it did. The unsavoriness of the place vanished as soon as the band opened with "Mister Love."

I still don't have an official setlist, but I counted in my head nine songs from Rubberneck, four from Hell Below/Stars Above, four from the new album No Surrender, and a show-closing standard from the unreleased Feeler. What I do know is that the energy never subsided. They ripped through all the classics with aplomb and won us over with all the new material. Dallas, a city with a normally fractured music scene, exhibited a heartening solidarity, shouting back every word of "I Come From the Water."*

Drenched in sweat, the crowd left The Palladium in a renewed euphoria. Members of Deep Ellum's old guard--easily noticeable by their sun-faded tattoos, camouflage shorts, and beer bellies--were reveling in the nostalgia of the moment, in the way it used to, and should be. Younger fans were dumbstruck at having witnessed a moment they had theretofore only experienced on their ipods. It would be hyperbolism to say The Toadies embody what everyone remembers and misses about the music scene we used to know in Dallas and took for granted. Some of Dallas' snarkier inhabitants even have the gumption to call them "overrated."** But one has to assume that there at the Palladium, something was revived in the audience at having seen a band that everybody rightly wrote off as dead. It was the memory of all the reckless fun Dallas used to have and a renewed hope that it can still have it.

*I was so personally overcome with excitement at one point, that I, like many others that night, made an attempt at crowd surfing during the song "Hell Below/Stars Above." I often forget how light I am. I was thrown forward with much violence and little effort, making the stage in what must have been world record time. I apologize for all the people I unintentionally kicked in the head.

**Send Jesse much hate mail.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend Roundup Pt: 1 - Sarah Jaffe @ The Cavern - 8/21/08

I cannot imagine a venue more appropriate for Sarah Jaffe than the Cavern. The venue's brutally understated stage lighting has a single point of failure: one solitary lightbulb. The walls seem to crowd in on audience and artist alike. The Cavern is built and lit as a virtual confessional booth for musicians. No other site is better suited for Sarah Jaffe's tuneful vulnerability, a woman for whom, perhaps obsessively, nothing may be kept secret.

Sarah Jaffe's tendency toward dark honesty is well-known by now in local music circles. Jaffe has even achieved national levels of recognition, having been selected as NPR's Song of the Day on 8/21. Sarah is known for her Dostoevskyish brand of self-consciousness, persistent as she is in exploring her more ignoble motivations. Her threadbare compositions provide the perfect backdrop. Assembled from small bits of guitar and cello, you can almost seem them bend under the gravity of her penitential voice.

Jaffe's fragility in verse is held in tension by her abilities as a performer. Her voice is as insistent and flawless as her guitar work. Meekly resting behind her large-framed glasses, her downcast gaze is somehow as arresting as a direct stare. Sarah can command even those segments of the audience that hadn't planned on listening, the ones who willingly hush their conversations when Jaffe pulls back the sound to a whisper. The effect at The Cavern felt like you were dropped into film noir or a T.S. Eliot Poem, like you were having a cigarette with Tom Waits. I have enough confidence in Sarah to believe someone like him would have been there last Thursday if he had the time and requisite anonymity. With any justice, that's just the sort of recognition Sarah Jaffe will one day receive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hump Day Vinyl: Alice Cooper

This is me back in form following a week that included a 12 hour workday, so I completely understand the significance of my own hump day institution. I would love to add some more local music commentary, maybe even garner an extra reader or two, but this is about the only silly writing habit for which I have the time now. Still, this week is a fun one.

I first heard "Clones (We're All)" on the Smashing Pumpkins box set
The Aeroplane Flies High. Its anthemic, boot-stopping gait made the song instantly appealing. I knew it was a cover and its feel had so much in common with the glitter of someone like Slade or T-Rex that I never would have guessed it to be first committed to tape by someone like Alice Cooper. That's right, Alice Cooper had a new wave phase and it was called Flush the Fashion, though this track was written by someone other than Alice. My friend Mr. Perkins did a little research on the songwriter and even dug up two additional covers for me, by Bile and Penal Colony. The one below is the Alice Cooper original. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hump Day Vinyl: Dion

Finally, I'm uploading a hump day vinyl on the appropriate day. This week's edition comes from the same spiral-patterned box of 45s given to me by a friend. Dion was one of my childhood favorites. Before I was buying my own tapes and CDs, I mostly listened to my Mom's copy of "Oldies but Goodies." I distinctly remember a lip-synched performance of "Runaround Sue" in our living room with my mom as audience. The version of Dion on this Jimi Hendrix cover is much more subdued than his early hits: a lackadaisical half flower child, half crooner backed by a flute riff. Surprisingly, Dion's cover feels much more like an acid trip than Hendrix's original. Enjoy, you're work week is 3/5ths over and we only have three more months of summer in Dallas.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Man Factory: Prepare to Street Fight!

I made the most wonderful discovery last weekend at the Cavern: Man Factory. The Arlington quintet has composed a six-song rock opera about Street Fighter II. This is an apt addition to the late-Gen-X -and-slightly-after encyclopedia: an ad hoc generation whose most telling artifacts are popularly consumed media. Given that the songs themselves are well-written, with a perfect mix of levity and sincerity, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy, particularly since you can download the six tracks free here.

p.s. Red Monroe capped off their slot with a relaxed, country-fied take on the long forgotten "She Waits on a Tidal Wave" that was...just...perfect.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wednesday (ish) Vinyl

This is the first attempt at Wednesday vinyl, made on a Thursday. Initially, I wanted this to be a blog about DFW music. In particular, I wanted it to be about my subjective experience of that music. I still do, but I think that category can be expanded beyond just the local gigs I happen to catch. In addition to scouring Deep Ellum, lower Greenville, and Denton for the best local sound bytes, I'm also very often pent up in my too trendy loft, sitting cross-legged in front of my new turntable, digesting bits of my own vinyl collection I still have never heard.

I started buying vinyl in the last five years. The majority of my 12" collection comes from lazy afternoons at Half Price Books and is not very large. I may have 30 full albums in total. But I also came into owning several dozen 45s very quickly. The biggest portion of that cache I got from a friend named Gary who gave them to me in a vintage 45 carrying case. The rest I found in a secondhand shop in Kanab, UT on a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was like the depleted copper-rich veins of Arizona metamorphosed into vinyl deposits to the north. I dug through it like a greedy prospector: Tears for Fears, The Go-Gos, Falco, R.E.M., most of them scratched to hell, but quite a few were salvageable. Whoever dropped all that stuff off was the coolest girl in her high school.

Still, the best stuff comes from that vintage mystery box, because I have no idea what's in it. I pulled this little number out just a few days ago and rocked out in my boxers. The real tragic thing about Elton John is that people my age know him as the paunchy sell-out who gave us the Lion King soundtrack. That's an object lesson for any current pop singer: don't sell your rock n' rollin' soul to Disney. Phil Collins did it to, though the prior existence of his soul is debatable. But anybody under the age of 45 is liable to forget that Elton John was capable of smacking you in the face with stuff like "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." Elton does all the stuff here that the Arctic Monkeys, et al wish they could do. It's riff, Elton's growl, the hyperactive hi-hatting, everything about it is iconic rock and roll. Use the link below to download the track, strip to your undies, punch a Chelsea fan in the face, and enjoy "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." The crackle and pop is mine, the rest is Elton's.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Mulligan for the Despot

The absence was shorter this time around. I'm attempting to teach myself that this is a blog and that sprawling essays need not be the order of every day. Today was supposed to be the day that I began something new. My best intentions were to post a ripped vinyl track to reward all you laborers who successfully scaled the week's hump. Alas, the necessary technical measures have not yet been taken. But look for this early next morning, or perhaps the next week.

And only one addendum for now. It turns out my mother's childhood was not nearly as music-deprived as I supposed. The truth turned out to be much more interesting. First, my mom availed herself of the latest pop hits whenever she could: at the houses of friends or in the back seat of a boyfriend's car. Yes, I was unaware that my mom had such boyfriends. The music wasn't explicitly prohibited by her folks either, though certainly not encouraged. Whatever their stance, my mom found it necessary to listen to the hot 100 through her pillow, the portable radio murmuring beneath it, just loud enough to hear in the dark. Unfortunately, my mom left the radio on one day and went to school. 1960s electronics being what they were, the insides melted from the lack of ventilation beneath the pillow and my mother's late-night music appreciation sessions were canceled thereafter.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Noise, A Scandal

A brief mea culpa: I have not written a word here in over two months. Despite my readership of one, that contradicts my previous commitment of aggressively covering the DFW music scene. It also undermines the fact that I have absorbed ample amounts of great music in that span, and most of it locally. All that is to explain why today I will be elaborating on a show I saw almost a month ago and why, as I try to ramp up to full speed over the next couple of weeks, this blog will sound more like reminiscing and less like relevant coverage. But now...

Shiny Around the Edges

My mom and I have an on-going argument about accessibility that we revisit at least twice a year. My mom has great taste in music. She grew up musically sheltered and so was only allowed to listen to rigid white-bred gospel or whatever mono-chromatically robed family band happened to visit their church. She was well into adulthood before she discovered the music that she had every right to in her teenage years. And when I was young, she weened me on this music. She was born in '49, so this meant Peter & Gordon, Herb Alpert, Frankie Avalon, Buddy Holly, The Righteous Brothers. It was all "safe" stuff, but it was all good. That said, my mom also enjoys Alan Jackson and really loves her some Toby Keith.

The argument we have starts with my diatribe on pop country, but ends up being a philosophical consideration on the merits of forcing yourself beyond your musical comfort zone. What's so wrong with "I wanna talk about meee-iii-eee" if that's what you enjoy? What is the use of making yourself move beyond what you already know you like? My mom is firmly in the "if it ain't broke" camp. And while that loyalty leads to an appreciation of the timeless - Dion, Marty Robbins, Bobby Darin - I think it also leads to atrophying the ability to discover.

This really is coming back around to Shiny Around the Edges, pictured above. My mom would hate Shiny Around the Edges. That's not a revelation. Most people's mothers would hate Shiny Around the Edges. But my mom would hate them for the same reason I saw a few people screw up their faces at the show they played almost two months ago at Rubber Gloves in Denton.

Shiny Around the Edges aims to subvert everything you know and enjoy about music. Sometims their sound is like an ominous whisper from that Poltergeist kid. The rest of the time, their sound is like a pillow-case full of bricks to the jaw. And not in any kind of cliche', metal-head way. They don't use bombast to shock as much as they use minimalism. They use single floor toms instead of a whole drum set. They shout at one pitch instead of sing a melody. They don't play their guitars at AC/DC volume levels, but with the bare minimum of distortion, abusing them with what looked like screwdrivers. I was standing. All the simplicity makes for an impression that's very personal. It's like being in the same room with the apocalypse.

The people who came to the show with me were not enjoying the ruckus that is Shiny Around the Edges. And I really don't judge or blame them. There's no really good or obvious reason to like Shiny Around the Edges. I'll admit to being similarly perplexed when I saw them weeks before at Sons of Hermann. But this time I felt like I was starting to understand, in my own way at least.

Shiny Around the Edges' music is scandalous. It's affront to things we think we know. And I think it's important to have things upset our sensibilities. It reminded me a little of Jesus, in the way that it illustrates scandal. We want a messiah, but not one who born in straw... Ok, but don't let him be from somewhere as lame as Nazareth... Fine, but let him be a priest or politician, not a carpenter... So be it, but let him lead a glorious revolution, not sit around and talk with prostitutes or lepers... A cross, a violent and bloody, ignominious death? Are you fucking kidding me? This? No matter what you perceive as "this," Shiny Around the Edges seem to shout from stage, "Yes, this."

Scandals are good for your health, for exercising those intellectual muscles you didn't think you had. Shiny Around the Edges gives you a puzzle and dares you to solve it. There will always be a place for head-nodding music, but listeners, and especially DFW listeners, would do well to also make a place for Shiny Around the Edges, a band that's shocking, disturbing, and very likely has something important to say.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interview: Record Hop

Denton’s Record Hop is one of the most ingenuous bands I have met, a people’s band in the most unobtrusive way. They appeared most in their element when I saw them playing at Space Studio, where there is no stage. Their vehemence and volume seem to hearken back to a day when bands were quite literally at audience level, an architectural declaration meant to convey honesty and candidness. And like most unspoiled bands of tremendous ability, they are as courteous as they are loud. This humility is no doubt influenced by six years of laboring almost strictly in the Denton and DFW area, cultivating their ferocious post-punk sound. Guitarist Scott Porter spent some of that time managing a venue – the now closed Secret Headquarters – and the Denton-based record label TXMF Records. The rest of the band, too, exerted energy in other Denton bands and local musical ventures. It is this body of evidence that attests to Record Hop’s affection for Denton and music for music’s sake.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with the band at a coffee house in Deep Ellum with all four in attendance: Scott Porter (guitar), Tony Wann (drums), Ashley Cromeens (vocals/guitar), and Cory Ward (bass). The Band talked a lot about Denton’s music scene and Porter of his desire to move beyond presiding over it. Record Hop also discussed their ambitious 2008 agenda. Having appeared twice in unofficial SXSW showcases, Record Hop is part of the official 2008 festival itinerary. This appearance coincides very nearly with the projected release of their as-yet untitled second album, produced by alternative rock godfather Steve Albini. All these things point to a favorable year for Record Hop where the band will likely reach ears beyond Texas. In the immediate future, Record Hop will be playing on Feb. 21 with Dallas’ Red Monroe at Lola’s before playing a Friday slot at the Amsterdam Bar in Exposition Park’s, three-day Melodica Festival running Feb. 22 thru 24.

DES: Are you all originally from the DFW area?

Scott: Fort Worth

Cory: I’m from Fort Worth, but I’ve been in Denton since ’95, so I’m pretty much from Denton

Ashley: I’m from Dallas, but I’ve lived in Denton for 10 years.

Tony: I’m from Bedford and Fort Worth

DES: and you (Scott) moved to Denton in…

Scott: in ’99.

Tony: Are we just bypassing all the God-worshipping stuff?

Scott: Oh yeah. Tony and I met fifteen years ago in Christian rock bands in the suburbs of Fort Worth.

Tony: Yeah. Represent.

Scott: This was in the early ‘90s. And then that all stopped.

DES: And when did that all stop?

Scott: Oh, mid ‘90s. We had a momentary lapse of reason. We were just out of high school and shit and, you know, kinda still going by the how you were raised kind of thinkin’.

Tony: That Baptist bullshit.

DES: But at this point, you’ve all been part of Denton for quite a few years.

Scott: Yeah, everybody except [Tony], he still lives here in Dallas. But, yeah, I’ve been there since ’99 and I was the last one to get there out of [Ashley, Cory, and myself].

DES: It struck me that you’re very tied to Denton and its music scene and kind of dedicated to it, having had the venue there and the record label.

Scott: That’s lapsing on my part, just because it’s gotten to the point now, where I’ve been so involved, that it’s too much now. It’s just too much bullshit.

DES: What do you mean by “bullshit?

Scott: Too much bullshit means it’s such a small town that, if you end up getting involved in some way with everybody, then suddenly everybody’s involved with you. Thursday night going down to get a beer with friends turns into talking about: “Yeah, I know, we could…save…Denton!” or some shit. I’m not trying to sound Cynical about it. It’s just that I’m at a point now where I’ve gotten old enough and [Record Hop] is doing well enough and we (Scott and Ashley) are getting married and I’ve got a good job. Now it’s more like, I’m going to focus on just the Scott thing instead of “God, we have to book a giant festival this year. Why? Because there are seventy bands here, so we have to.” It was kick-ass; it was a lot of fun. I made a lot of good friends. I’m just kind of ready for the vacation. We’re still booking shows for everybody and the record label is still doing what it’s doing on its own. And we love the fucking town, but I’m just sort of done with the boosting for a while.

DES: How do you feel about the health of the Denton scene?

Scott: It’s good. Everybody’s real anxious. In any church, school, group of people anywhere, there’s always a little snippiness bubbling somewhere, but for the most part everybody’s so used to everybody being in bands that it becomes regular life. So it’s healthy, the scene’s healthy just because everybody’s trying to play. I mean, there’ll be six shows tonight and they’re all within a couple of blocks of each other.

DES: It seemed to me you have a lot of Fugazi similarities, even apart from the music, having been involved a local venue and record label.

Scott: I wish we could have had all these things ten years ago. I just wish we’d done all this when we were twenty or twenty-one. Like those guys in Douche and at Paper Stain [Records]. They’re real super-motivated and they’re all just over twenty one, so they’re just starting to do basically the young-guy equivalent of what we’re doing and they seem a little more focused and they have a lot more energy. And they’re putting out quality shit. Shiny Around the Edges is associated with it and Douche, Drink to Victory, Notes from Underground… (Responding to his laughing band mates) They’re called Douche, I don’t know what you want me to do about it.

As far as the Fugazi thing, I think that comes from being raised up on that after finding good music in the early ‘90s. There’s definitely an influence, but I’m still coming from the era where the biggest underground band in the world was Nirvana and ended up being the biggest band on the planet. So you still feel like a cool band can go all the way. But as you get older, you think, “Oh, wait. Nobody goes all the way anymore.” But that’s what’s good about the guys at Paper Stain. Being young, they never came up in an era where there’s still that hangover of thinking something huge could happen here. With some of the other drummers we had, there was always that thirty-year-old hangover of, like, “Man, we’ve got to mail this CD to this big fucking record label. I know a guy that knows a guy that knows a guy.” It’s like you’re speaking a different language.

DES: And the internet has changed a lot of that.

Scott: Exactly. You don’t have to be from anywhere anymore. That was the thing about the Denton-centric thing. You can be from the middle of nowhere and still get as big as anybody.

DES: I noticed you guys played well over 200 shows in your five and half years together. Do feel like you’ve been able to develop and polish your live show pretty well?

Ashley: Yeah. It’s taken a while. Things just get easier as you do it.

Scott: When we first started off, we were playing three or four gigs a week. Thursday night in Dallas, Friday night in Denton, and Saturday night on the other side of Denton, just because it’s fun to play. You don’t make any money off of it and you’re lucky to get the free beer. There’s just nothing more fun to do than just be loud.

DES: Do you feel like your live show is your strong suit, having played all these shows and developed your live performance, but having only released one record [Pareidolia]?

Scott: When we made the new record in June, that’s one of the reasons we made the decisions about where we did it and who we did it with. That first album we made is a good record, but it sort of doesn’t sound like us. We are a live band and it’s more of a loud, raw kind of thing. That didn’t translate on the first record, but I think this new one that’s coming out in March pretty much nails the live sound.

Tony: On this new album, we were trying to not create that artificial separation, so everything was tracked live. We were playing live and we just found the person we found that we wanted to record.

DES: In two days, I understand.

Tony: Yes.

Scott: Two solid days of recording and one day of mixing.

DES: That’s break-neck.

Scott: We were ready for it, because we practiced more in the two or three months preceding the recording than we had practiced in the past two years. Seriously. We’d go a month without practicing and knew we could nail the set down just being a decent band. When Tony joined up, that’s why we were able to do it in two days. We knew that shit forwards and backwards.

DES: Are any of the tracks on the new record a first take?

Scott: I think “American Weed” is. I imagine several of them.

DES: No producer probably lets you get away with just one take.

Scott: No, there are a couple where we only did one. And I don’t think any of them are more than three or four [takes]. Sometimes there would be a couple of false starts, but it was pretty clear when you’d get done, you’d just know. I think if we hadn’t taken the time to go upstairs and listen to them after every take, it would have taken us one day.

Tony: You were talking about no producer letting you get away with that. That was one of the things that Steve [Albini] was really good about. He doesn’t sweat the details. If you fuck up a little thing here and there, he’ll point it out, but he doesn’t care if you fix it or not. It was like he could assess how good we were and what we were capable of. He knew if we got a take and we weren’t capable of doing any better than that, he’d pretty clearly say, “That sounds good. Let’s stick with that.”

DES: Speaking of the record, John Congleton [of the Paper Chase] was involved with the post-production stuff, how did that come around?

Tony: We had two days to record and one to mix. As it turned out, that third mix day went too fast and nobody had the right ears at the time. Steve did everything he could and worked as fast as he could and we still ended up with two songs that weren’t mixed. So we knew were going to have to get some mixing done when we got back to Dallas. I pretty quickly called up John and he said he’d love to get in on it. At the same time, J.C. [Justin Collins] decided he wanted a second crack at it. So they concurrently worked on the mixes. Then it was great, because we had two different options.

Scott: Yeah, they approached it differently.

Tony: Which is really good, because that’s what we wanted, to hear the mixes of two people with really good ears, and we can just choose what sound we wanted to lean towards. So then we had to decide and that was a drag, but in the end, I think J.C. [Justin Collins] knew the sound of the band better.

Scott: It was his idea for us to even go to Chicago.

Tony: And we ended up favoring his mixes because they were a little more guitar heavy whereas Congleton has this insanely awesome drum and bass thing going. To me, that’s what sounds so great about his mixes is that the drums sound like cannons. So we ended up using one of John’s mixes on the album and another little piece, the end of another song. So we actually have three mixes of the album: the Albini mix, the Congleton mix, and the JC mix.

DES: Any hope of a triple release?

Scott: Well, one thing we talked about…the Paper Stain guys have a cassette release line, so when we start selling the record, as a little keepsake for the record release shows, we’re going to probably put some of the Albini mixes on cassette tape for the first fifty people or something.

DES: You’ve got SXSW coming up and you’ve played showcases in ’05 and ’06 – didn’t make ’07 – but this time you’re actually playing the festival?

Scott: Yeah, we’re actually in the conference this time. We just found out we’re playing Saturday at a place called Buffalo Billiards. I just want to find out who we’re playing with. I’m pretty sure we’re not playing with Dolly Parton.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Upcoming Shows

Saturday's loaded. Obscenely Unseen 2 is taking place over at Space Studio from 2pm - 1am, beginning, I believe, with Record Hop. You also have an opportunity to see Boys Named Sue twice and see local bands take over the Loft. Don't forget Mom at And/Or, because there's no hipper place to catch music than an art gallery.

Thursday, January 31

Pleasant Grove @
Doublewide - Dallas - 3510 Commerce St.

Friday, February 1

Boys Named Sue @
Allgood Cafe - Dallas - 2934 Main

Saturday, February 2

Record Hop @
Space Studio - Dallas - 2814 Main, Ste. 201
9pm, Cost $5

Red Monroe w/ The Demigs and Black Tie Dynasty @
The Loft - Dallas - 1135 S. Lamar

Boys Named Sue @
Club Dada - Dallas - 2720 Elm
Cost N/A

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Sword @ Lola's - Jan. 25, 2008

It took a recent Rolling Stone article sympathetic to the Aqua-Net era of metal to remind me just how much I hate hair bands. The article, an analysis of the Rocklahoma festival, was trying to explore the nuances of pop-metal cock rock in the mid to late 80s, playing up the philosophical potential for the whiskey and tits hedonism of bands like Motley Crue, Poison, and Ratt. But the fact is that the whole genre was exactly as shallow as Brett Michaels’ eye shadow and deserved its abrupt ending and its embarrassing comeback attempts. The trend was annoying in its day and hilarious now, but perhaps more seriously, hair metal was an abomination to real metal.

Real metal is made by unpopular kids, the kids with patchy mustaches and skinny arms. The kids who got picked on, who developed morbid tastes in movies and t-shirt art. Basically me. I was, as a teenager, enamored with metal of the Black Sabbath and Cliff Burton Metallica variety, a disciple of the minor scale, a worshipper of twin guitar solos. Real heavy metal was darker and more aggressive than its glitzier counterpart. I felt like it made up for my lack of aggression and power in daily life. The experience was too morose to be called escapism and a little more grounded than fantasy, but there was certainly a cathartic element at work. I could agree with and participate in the power expressed in large, chunky notes even if it didn’t manifest itself in any practical way. It’s the same odd metaphysic that draws any kind of fan to any kind of music. Likewise, real metal was made for people who needed a cathartic. Hair metal was made for preppies. Some people might think Austin’s The Sword are something like a monument to that darker era of metal, a newly dusted album of yellowed photos from the past, but I believe in The Sword‘s present utilization, even if it is augmented by nostalgia.

The Sword are, in every respect, old time metal. Tag-teaming on Friday night with fellow Austinians, The High Cost of Living, The Sword turned Ft. Worth venue Lola’s into a big riff paradise. Like their musical predecessors, there was no pretense with The Sword. With barely a murmur of introduction, the quartet pitched themselves into the popular “Freya,” stopping only for an occasional word of gratitude for the rest of the set. The sight was bewitching: undulating mops of hair, rhythmically agreeing with the heavy footfalls of the music. Occasionally, things would halt and either of the guitars would cleave the noise with a nimble arpeggio. I jumped and threw myself around like a true moron, clutching my newly-purchased t-shirt in my left hand, throwing up devil horns while whooping my praise. The abandon was glorious. I left the venue with a headache and hoarse of voice, beaming with childish renewal.

The next day my neck hurt and still does. It’s been nearly a decade since my neck hurt the day after a show. But the question remains: are The Sword a legitimate band making art people can use or are they just good ol’ throwback fun? It’s a circular question, because nostalgia is useful all by itself. It’s a matter whether or not a band like The Sword makes music that affects you in any way beyond helping you recall Dukes of Hazzard or your high score on pinball. The better way to phrase the question would be: are there still pimply malcontented teenagers with no fashion sense who can’t bench press their own weight? I think there are, and I hope they discover The Sword.

For some videos of the show, featuring The Sword, The High Cost of Living, and Record Hop, visit Parade of Flesh. This site, by the way, always seems to get great video of local shows. If I get fired in the near future, it will likely be their fault.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekend Engagements Worth Considering

Big weekend of music in DFW. Make sure you go to at least one of these, but you should really think about doubling up on your show-going this weekend.

Friday, January 25th

Record Hop w/ the Sword @
Lola's - Fort Worth - 2736 W. 6th St.

Loop 12 @
And/Or Gallery - Dallas - 4221 Bryan St. Ste B

Mundo & Lifted MC @
Green Elephant - Dallas -
5627 Dyer St

The Red Herring's @
Lakewood Bar & Grill -
Dallas - 6340 Gaston

Free to Kill Again @
Bar of Soap - Dallas - Exposition & Parry

Saturday, Januray 26th

Bleach Boys @
Xtream Dudes Manor - Denton - 1119 Frame St.

Tree Wave w/ Koji Kondo @
Rubber Gloves - Denton - 411 E. Sycamore

Space Cadet w/ Wonderfool and The Future Cast @
Doublewide - Dallas - 3510 Commerce

Zanzibar @
FG Gallery - Arlington - 2800 W. Division
Price Unknown

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Alchemy of Texas: Reverend Horton Heat with Nashville Pussy

The first understanding I had of Texas was as an arrangement of irreducibles. I was in Adairs for the first time when that happened and the Boys Named Sue had just begun a set that would stretch well into the night. The room was packed with rockabillies and Texas geezers. The rest of the space was taken up by Shiner and country music. It was then, as a disillusionment that left one with only alcohol, rage, and humor, that I started to see the modern nation of Texas. Admittedly, that's looking at a place through bizarrely colored glasses, but it's an aspect of the region that I see pop up now and again like I did at the Reverend Horton Heat show on Saturday night.

Nashville Pussy's personnel is an amalgamation of geography that stretches to Canada, but the spirit of the band is the bourbon-stained South. Blain Cartwright is the voice of the band and self-proclaimed redneck from a Kentucky trailer park. Cartwright, himself a disciple of the philosophy of irreducibles, sums up his ethos with two elements: "hate and whiskey." Add to that truncated list a guitar-shredding heroine who makes men lick her boots before giving them a guitar solo, and you would have a fair description of Nashville Pussy. Only a band fueled by hate and whiskey could be responsible for the musical explosion at the Granada Theater last Saturday. The aforementioned guitarist, pictured above, capped off the evening by allowing an audience member to pour liquor in her mouth before she spewed it back at the audience, climbed the light rigging, and began tearing the strings from her guitar and throwing them to the crowd.

The Reverend Horton Heat would have been upstaged by that exhibition if they hadn't followed it up with a set that exceeded two hours. The exceptional thing about the Reverend is the bareness of his guitar. Ever since Billy Corgan's big muff guitar effect antics from the Smashing Pumpkins, the general public has been spoiled with rock and roll doused in angsty fuzz. It's not a bad thing. Practically my whole CD collection is angsty fuzz. It's an expressionistic liberty, to distort instruments, and I like it. But I also appreciate how the Reverend is still, for the most part, rattling our teeth with accelerated swing guitar. That double-time approach, combined with the Rev's polished vocal caterwaul, accelerates into what we know as psychobilly. The end result is a sound as brash and racy as all the flaming dice tattoos and pompadours in the crowd. And it hinges entirely on the band's technique. The Reverend proved as much by racing through tunes from Bill Haley, Elvis, Cash, and Black Sabbath with aplomb. I've seen the Reverend Horton Heat one other time, in Boston, but he had nowhere near the command over the crowd as he did on this evening. Dallas seems to be struggling to apprehend its own musical identity. Most of the area's bands have disintegrated or moved somewhere else. As a front-runner of Dallas' old guard, I think Pastor Heath is the city's best shot at a musical patriarch.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Weekend Engagements Worth Considering

Jan 18 (tonight) - Les Savy Fav w/ Mom @ The Loft - Dallas - $14

Jan 19 (Saturday) - The Reverend Horton Heat @ Granada - $23

Jan 19 (Saturday) - 9 acts beginning at 3:30pm including RTB2, The Backsliders, and The Red Herrings @ Bar of Soap - Dallas - $5

Jan 19 (Saturday) - Matthew and the Arrogant Sea @ The Prophet Bar - Dallas - $7

Album Review

A week ago, I had ambitions of reviewing Policia! Policia!. Late as it would be, I wanted to see if I had the chops to write a decent music review after authoring paragraphs of drivel for Dallas Music Guide. But after three straight posts about the same album’s remix, I figured a review would be overkill and was ready to abandon the idea. Truthfully, Policia! Policia! hadn’t made much of an impact on me anyway, until yesterday during a trip to Wichita Falls. I wanted to hear the album again before I listened to the remix, so I brought it along. Maybe it was my rented Four Runner’s superior audio system, but the album finally crossed that blessed line between listenable and infectious.

What happened is I finally started listening to the words. As a music-listener, I’m very much an infant with letter blocks. I’ll build forts or castles or factories with them, but very rarely do I actually notice the alphabet in front of me. The first time I heard Policia! Policia!, I related to the music spatially, noticing the couple of times the songs would drop into a higher gear and the gravity of the riff took them over. The musical result was jarring, surprising, pleasant. Relating to the music literarily, though, adds a new dimension.

Anyone who heard Red Monroe’s debut, Meeting on a Train, or even their self-titled EP, noticed the band made a drastic swerve with Polica! Policia!. The previous sound was one of finesse, favoring sounds that surrounded the listener, to the point of eschewing a catchier take of the song “Althea” for a simpler one awash with distant background noise. I thought Red Monroe’s music would get spacier, floatier, more ambient with each album. By stark contrast, Polica! Policia! finds the band sharper nearer-at-hand. The lyrics have gone from ominous reverie to naked palpability. The approach now resembles Flannery O’Conner’s terrifying Southern gothic. “She waits on a tidal wave” becomes “taking you from your parent’s basement is like trying to peel flesh from a stone.” The former, from Meeting on a Train is dreamier, but makes more sense. The latter, from Policia! Policia!, is much more tangible, but cryptic.

Personally, I think Dallas finally got to Red Monroe. DFW’s attractive real-estate prices and sunny weather is supposed to make it play nice. But Dallas is mean. It railroads over the poor and chases off the homeless. In the words of Deep Ellum graffiti, Dallas hearts cash and little else. Red Monroe says as much: “The difference is Southern businesses will kill you then call your kids to collect.” Policia! Policia! hits closer to the bone with all its flesh and factories and knee high boots. The album’s characters are realer too: fickle, indecisive, with minds full of sex and murder. If the lyrical narrative is befuddling, it’s also near. It’s funny how the stuff of the day-to-day that rubs up against your arms, hits you in the chest, and gets in your eyes can be the most confusing, most frightening, most imposing.

The value of Policia! Policia! is that it fairly evokes this abutment of Dallas and myself. State fairs, corrupt government, the desperately impoverished, the unimaginably rich, they all exist side-by-side in this surreal trailhead called Dallas. Red Monroe is confronting the joy and the junk of the place at eye level. That’s the quality that makes me feel a new solidarity with the material and that, to me, is the chief aim of experiencing music.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Policia! Policia! remix now available

The blog has been a little choppy with one sprawling existential discourse on Chris Whitley and three hiccups about a Red Monroe remix. Not really what I intended when I started this thing nearly two weeks ago. But I'm nothing if not honest and I told you I'd point you to the actual remix once it was available. The downloadable file is hosted by We Shot JR and you can get it here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Policia! Policia! remix release moved to Jan. 13th...

...or at least that's the good word from Architects and Heroes.

Almost everything escapes my attention

I barely caught onto this one. Apparently, Dallas' own Red Monroe is releasing a remix of Policia!Policia! by various and, I think, mostly local artists and it comes out today. No word yet on how to obtain it--the purchase link on Red Monroe's Myspace sends you nowhere--but get a load of this lineup.

DJ Stephen R
Smile Smile
Wanz Dover
The Hourly Radio
Jay Wadley

I'll let you know when and where to get it. For now, you can munch on one of the transmogrifications that didn't make the cut. I got this one from the guys over at Stereo on Strike and its ripe for aural mastication. A word of warning: what you'll be downloading is a zipped up .wav file weighing in at a whopping 47 MB. But if I can do it, so can you. If you're really so strapped for space, give it at least one good listen and delete it.

Sundown Shade (The Frenz Bumpin the Bonham Mix)