Phosphorescent is the musical brainchild of Brooklynite Matthew Houck who has garnered well-deserved praise as an underground indie rock force since the beginning of this decade on the merits of several solid releases. Arguably, the most notable of which is a tribute to the Red-Headed Stranger, To Willie released last year on independent label Dead Oceans.
Thanks to high acclaim for that record by Willie himself, Phosphorescent was poised to emerge from the underground into the limelight on the strength of Houck's own songwriting and the merits of his and his backing band's top-notch musicianship.
While previous albums have shown Houck's love for Americana with solo efforts that ventured into that territory, this year's Here's To Taking It Easy is more of a legit country-rock record comprised of songs that would fit snugly into any play list with the likes of Gram Parsons-era Byrds, Neil Young and The Band. And of course, there's plenty of Willie-influenced sentiments throughout.
Phosphorescent kicked off their current tour with a hometown gig in Brooklyn only to wake up the next day to find that their van and 40 grand worth of vintage gear and tour merchandise had been stolen. To everyone's astonishment, the van and all their equipment and goods were recovered by NYPD a few days later. My theory is that the thief tipped off the police himself after he opened one of the new CDs and gave it a listen. It's that good. However it happened, the band must have felt like they had witnessed a miracle that day.
Houck and Company took the stage Friday night at the beautifully restored Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff and proceeded with easy confidence into the extended intro of "Los Angeles" from the new album. Perhaps part of that alacrity was due to a new appreciation of their vintage instruments. They held them gently, lovingly caressing each note out of them to calm an anxious audience until the song swelled to its climax and receded delicately like the ebb tide of the warmest ocean. "Are you getting a lot of attention, ain't you now?" Houck repeats, and as the crowd leaned in closer and closer, it was quite clear that Phosphorescent was getting every bit of theirs.
The band flowed smoothly into two more from their recently released record. "It's Hard To Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)," a barroom boogie built on bouncy lines by ace bassist Jeffrey Bailey that provides a solid foundation for Scott Stapleton's hair-flinging piano pounding. "Nothing Was Broken (Love Me Foolishly)" is a mid-tempo number driven by the expertly understated percussion sensibilities of Christopher Marine that epitomizes the new record with its tale of longing, its careful craftsmanship and the haunting pedal steel of Dallas native Ricky Ray Jackson.
Continuing into the night, they wove a colorful sonic tapestry consisting of Willie covers, new album tracks and the forlorn folk of Phosphorescent's back catalog. Such a varied set list provided ample room for Jesse Anderson Ainslie's expert leads and the fuzzy solos of Houck's beloved 1955 Gibson ES-125.
As 12:30 neared the band left the stage but the house had not had enough and coaxed Houck back to center stage, guitar in hand. He stood under a single spotlight where he quietly fingered the strings of - appropriately enough - Leonard Cohen's "Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye." His rendition of that lonely classic evoked a newer, more profound feeling of loss and longing as every note danced on the delicate edge of pure vulnerability and whiskey fueled despair. Taking a cue from an audience member, Houck continued solo, singing "I Am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)" into the quiet darkness before him.
The band mates returned for a few more songs including the Joe Tex southern soul classic, "These Taming Blues." As the last song approached its final crescendo, Houck raised his guitar with one hand high above his head in triumph. He then brought it down, letting it free fall to the stage with a thud from three feet high. If that vintage Gibson survived the impact without permanent damage, then the audience too witnessed a miracle on that night.
Starting off the evening at the Kessler was The Dallas Family Band, a collective of musicians from several area bands. The dozen or so members played and swapped at least that many musical implements, singing, stomping, clapping in the middle of the theater amongst the audience members. Their exuberance and spirited performance was reminiscent of an ad-hoc folk band on the last day of church camp. Which is to say, big fun.
Shiny Around The Edges began their set with a low, distorted bass line and hushed vocals. One by one each member made their way to the stage and added new layer of resonance to create a wall of disparate sounds that seemed to make sense as they bounced around the theater. Joining the Denton trio was Nick Foreman of Dust Congress on banjo and percussion who helped Shiny churn out songs from their forthcoming record Denton's Dreaming. Based on the sounds coming from the stage on that night, that new album will turn listeners upside down on their melted faces when it comes out in September. This face is ready.
This lengthy review at The Dallas Observer DC9 At Night blog says everything i would say, only better.
After listening to his records non-stop for four plus years, this was my first live Josh Ritter experience, and i can only say that his performance surpassed my expectations by unimaginable lengths. i hope he comes back soon.
i took lots of pics and put them on the flickr. Here's a few:
So Midlake finally found their way back home after extensive touring had seen them trekking across this continent and Europe over the last six months. They'll be on the road and over oceans in the months to come in support of their stellar 2010 LP, The Courage of Others. In addition to the comfort of their own beds, they found an attentive, appreciative audience at Hailey's to show off their musical chops and penchant for performing captivating versions of their dark tales on stage.
Opener John Grant, who spent much of last year recording 2010's Queen of Denmark, with Midlake as his backers, performed tracks from that record beautifully to start the evening.
There's just no feeling in the world like watching songs from your favorite albums of the year being performed right in front of your face. It's what dorks like me live for. Both records are available from Bella Union, so pick 'em up if you haven't done so already.
Old 97s frontman and Dallas native Rhett Miller headlined the latest installment of KXT 91.7 Radio's Barefoot at the Belmont series on June 3. Mr. Miller burned through a set of Old 97s favorites like "Doreen," "Curtain Calls," "Barrier Reef" "Rollerskate Skinny," "Wish the Worst" and "Big Brown Eyes" as well as some of his solo songs such as "Fireflies," "Question," "Our Love," and "Singular Girl," which he dedicated to an 11 year old birthday girl in attendance. He's widely known as one of the nicest guys in rock 'n' roll, and he more than proved it that night with a lengthy, energetic set and a 40+ minute meet-and-greet with fans afterwords.
Kicking off the evening were Denton's folky up and comers Seryn, who dazzled the sold out crowd with a typically airy, harmony-focused set that matched the stunning beauty of the setting. More pics as always, at my flickr page.
Here is a vid i shot of Rhett performing a new Old 97s song that could be included on their new album. A rewrite (or "theft," as Rhett puts it) of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row," it features the refrain, "You will not go to heaven, you'll go to Champaign, Illinois." Snort.
Whiskey Folk Ramblers filled Ft. Worth's Lola's in celebration of their long-awaited Salim Nourallah-produced second LP, ...And There Are Devils. As always, the whiskey flowed, the crowd hooted, hollered and boogied while WFR banged out a raucous set of their signature old timey jams. i think i saw sweat dripping from the ceiling. Or was that PBR?
The good people behind Ft. Worth venue The Where House held a benefit to raise cash for renovations and future shows on May 22. Featured performers Adrian Hulet, RTB2, Chatterton, The Orbans, The Quaker City Nighthawks, and HOYOTOHO treated the patrons to all kindsa booty-shakin' sounds. These pics and more can be found at flickr by clicking here.
Austin's Quiet Company stopped at Hailey's in Denton on May 29 to celebrate the release of their new EP Songs for Staying In, which is the follow up to their hook-laden 2009 LP, Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon. Feel the love. i did.
Sons of Hermann Hall hosted Sarah Jaffe's Dallas CD release concert where she and her all-star band belted out some old favorites as well as tracks from Suburban Nature, which is out now on Kirtland Records. Click here for more pics on the flickr. Ms. Jaffe is currently on tour in support of Lou Barlow. Click here for tour dates.
Camera Obscura, Scotland's premier sad sack pop rockers made their first appearance at Hailey's on Saturday night and treated us to a sublime set of sweetly sentimental songs. Singer/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell never seems comfortable on stage, but her confidence comes through in her voice as she carries a crowded room away with lamenting tales of lost love. Her honey-sweet tones pour over you like so many warm rays of sunshine, you can easily forget that the stories she tells come from such a melancholy, overcast place full of longing. Camera Obscura's songs push me to the edge of tears every time, but maybe that says more about my sad sack sensibilities than Ms. Cambpell's.