Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Upcoming Show: The Beaten Sea - March 27, 2009

Address: 101 S. Walton St., #105

e-mail for gate code

Working Man's Reprise

Someone pointed out to me that the last post made me sound crotchety and perhaps older than I am. I am twenty eight years old. I am not a forty year old Smiths fan with a wife and three kids who's finding it hard to fit live music into my already hectic schedule of coordinating Pump It Up parties. I am single and without responsibilities, save feeding and clothing myself.

Admittedly, I may have lazily adopted a cranky tone. If I'd been more self-aware, I might have been more deliberate about making myself sound cool and young. But is there something about merely suggesting shows start earlier that makes me sound old? Why doesn't it make me sound like someone with a day job who likes sleep, which is actually the case?

One of my abiding examples of peaceful iconoclasm is my friend Matt. I first encountered Matt when we were both college freshman and he lived next door. Matt liked B-horror movies, Arkansas, hardcore music, and having coffee at 7am before heading to the library and retrieving the morning paper. A man of habit, he continues that last practice to this day. He feels no need to behaviorally conform to any subculture. He is the Switzerland of status quo.

I'm not quite there yet. I run on a fuel that's 90% peer-approval, so I'm a little embarrassed to have outed myself as the "old" guy who's wiped-out by midnight. That doesn't change the fact that the ethos by which one becomes known as "old" has more in common with MTV Spring Break than it does with music.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Apology of the Working Hipster

My upstairs neighbors don't sleep nights. I know this, because from about 11:00pm to 6:00am every night, I endure what sounds like someone obsessively shoving a recliner to alternating corners of their loft, ceaselessly, like a meth-addicted, interior designing Sisyphus. I mention this because it directly contradicts my own schedule. 11:00pm to 6:00am: sleeping. 8:30am to 5:30pm: ceaselessly pushing numbers and text from keyboard to printer to outbox, like a necktied Sisyphus. But still, like a contributing member of productive society, which is more than I can say for my laz-e-boy shoving upstairs neighbors.

Historically, productive members of society ask very little at the end of the hard work day: a cold beer, good conversation, and a little romance if they're lucky. Why is it, then, that the musical community had drifted so far away from the working man's pace? Why do shows scheduled for 9:00 start at 10:00, labor under half-hour sets and hour-long sound checks, and finally end at 2:00? Why do shows so often consist of comatose hipsters and maxed-out sound systems? And why is this all so rigidly now the standard for performed music? Who is this working for?

I read an autobiography of a man who, as a child, lived through the Southie busing riots in Boston in the 70s. The author's mom actually cultivated a sustained Boston-wide reputation during this period by arousing the anti-establishment sentiment of the neighborhood with music, performing sharp, angry folk tones in local bars to the delight of Southie's working class just as they left the day's work behind. The shortsighted outrage of that particular situation shouldn't be envied, but the basic picture still appeals to me: accessible music for the working class on their terms.

It's a question of audience, or maybe even potential audience. If shows start at ten or eleven and drag on till two, then that's a situation where artists are making music for artists or at least for tweekers who move furniture all night. Those people need music too, but on its face, this rigid night owl policy is patently anti-populist and ghettoized. What about the welders, mechanics, maids, or even the accountants, pharmacists, engineers, etc.?

One would wonder what it might be like if shows started at, say, eight. If there were never more than three acts. If the sound person would switch the EQ dial from "party" to "music." If the music ended at ten, the lights went up, and everyone still had about an hour to converse, discuss the music, dialogue thought.

Maybe this is all impractical. Maybe I should capitulate to the sophomoric machismo that dictates coolness: insomnia, vomit, self-involved oblivion. Whatever I do, I'm not going to turn folk just so I can go to bed at a proper hour. So c'mon, Rock and Roll, we can figure this out.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ponytail vs. Permanent Press

This is nothing but a re-post. Apparently, I don't take my own contributions to this one in six trillion piece of web real estate seriously, so why not fill it with someone else's hard work?

This band is neither from DFW nor coming to DFW, but this Pitchfork-produced clip scratches me right where I itch. I have fantasized for a while about bands performing in unorthodox locations: empty and abandoned urban lots, concrete medians of major thoroughfares, BLM land on the Arizona strip, my apartment*. I have a friend who once had a goal to reduce his show-going to bands performing in art galleries, though I don't think he ever followed through.

Baltimore's Ponytail pulls one off that I had not even considered: the laundromat. Of course, this brings to mind our own, now defunct Bar of Soap, but that was a bar AND laundromat and I honestly never saw anyone wash their clothes; although, I'd be interested to hear from you if you did. This appears to be an operating, run-of-the-mill, (Baltimore?) laundromat. I had never heard Ponytail before and was immediately impressed with their dual-guitar spastics, but what is going on with the frontwoman? She seems to be contributing little beyond randomly knifing the music with a disharmonic yelp.

*Pathetic foreshadowing. Expect a long overdue post about this soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Annex House - The Beaten Sea w/ RTB2 - 1/23/09

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.