I believe this is the first timeDenton’s main stages have been in the same place two years in a row. I hope it stays that way. Roaming between them is easy and the music continues seamlessly.
The Baptist Generals, Chris Flemmons and a new, re-shuffled deck of five musicians, stood upon one of those main stages. Chris is something of a paternal figure forDenton’s music community. As the creative mind behind The Baptist Generals, he is known for his songcraft. More recently, he is known as the founder of 35Denton. And even with that shining resume, he remains one of the most approachable characters in this town.
Chris made a remark only a week earlier that he considered it poor taste to play the same musical conference you organize. Only it was a tangential comment, and I failed to ask him who or what changed his mind this year. Perhaps his reduced role as festival organizer, or the fact that his band his preparing for their first release in nearly a decade, convinced him to disregard the rule. I only know that Chris’ geniality is such that few would have balked at the Generals performing in years past and fewer would today. Denton, and not justDenton, butDallasandFt.Worthand the rest, owe too much to his selfless love of music.
You have to appreciate the patient adaptive qualities of Chris and the rest of The Baptist Generals. They came to prominence in the late ‘90s, when hopeful songsmiths still fretted about sending demos to slick-haired A&R scouts who held the keys to legitimacy. They got going just as worldwide, mass communication knocked the pillars out from under the institution.
It is difficult to know who holds the keys in music today. It may be totally democratic now ,or perhaps there is a new authority altogether. The fact is there are bands like The Baptist Generals that seemed to lose some traction in that mammoth shift. It is a pleasure to see them back on the stage, propelled by that dynamic, tidal wave sound of theirs, always swelling and receding and sounding just generally gorgeous.
The Mountain Goats are one of those acts that effectively weathered every recent shift in the music industry. Since the early ‘90s, John Darnielle has issued over a dozen albums under the moniker. On stage hear at 35Denton, they are a study in opposing perspectives. On the one hand, their groomed sound could be taken for any regular, suburban opiate. On the other hand, there is something snotty and defiant about the way John Darnielle recounts Biblical Psalms. And there is a mourning that is both incensed and humored when he recounts the stories of friends lost to vodka and meth.
The bespectacled Darnielle proves a veteran stage personality, charming the crowd with anecdotes and tongue-in-cheek jokes. “I feel like I’m on a date with a really popular boy,” my friend says of Darnielle’s charisma. The Mountain Goats close with “The Best Ever Death Metal Band inDenton,” because, as Darnielle admits, “There’s nowhere to go but down” from that song. Hail Satan.
The clear demarcation between the evening stage shows and the club night shows actually lends a greater legitimacy to the latter. The night does not really seem to begin until I am within the confines of Dan’s Silver Leaf, a feat I pull off only via the ambiguous benefits of my press badge. Dentongroup Danny Rush and the DDs have already started playing. Singer Daniel Folmer stands atop the sole-varnished wood grain of the Silverleaf stage in New Balance sneakers, snarling his own brand of punkish honky-tonk. Folmer is a self-aware contradiction, even bragging in song, “I can walk like a movie star, talk like a cowboy.”
Where Dan’s Silverleaf is a line-up dedicated to the hyper-literate songwriter, the basement at J&J’s pizza is like a catacomb for the gut-punching brand of rock. Dentonband Bad Design’s tunes sound like a controlled burn. Steven Altuna’s authoritarian yell is framed by an enveloping din of oddly and beautifully timed punctuation. The drummer looks positively maniacal. It is gritty and methodical and strangely academic, like an axe-marked prime number. Groups like Bad Design elicit both excitement and frustration. They are compellingly creative, but I have the ominous feeling that they are too smart to catch on but for the faithful corps in this basement. But isn’t that how most revolutions start?
The five members of The Blurries are crammed onto a corner stage at Mellow Mushroom, several feet away from the pizza ovens. None of them have more than about five square feet in which to shuffle around. It is a decidedly meek setting for one of the sharpest bands I have seen so far. The Blurries are scary tight, playing crystalline American pop with commanding aplomb. They are songs that are at once original and familiar; basically the reason music fans get up in the morning.
Singer/guitarist Joey Shanks has aDallashome and aMemphiscred, according to the festival’s web site. He thanks the audience at one point for bearing with the couple of brief tuning delays or, as he puts it, “while we get our shit together.” The Blurries’ shit is most definitely together; it is damn near water-tight. The group is billed as being from nowhere more specific than DFW. From where I stand, their talent is expansive enough to rep an entire metroplex and certainly bigger than a pizza-place venue.
Photo: The Baptist Generals (Credit: Ryan Thomas Becker)