Guided by Garrett Smith & Eric Sonson
Photos by Eric Sonson and Mike Carpenter.
Pizza and punk – is there a better remedy for the remnants of a festive late night?
I’m headed to the square, fighting off the haze of a late night of waiting in lines – but a cup of coffee won’t do for me. I need something more. Something static, high voltage. And the best place to find that is the most ironic – The Buzzkills. My vibe skyrockets. There’s no better way to start a hungover day than the thrash of electrified punk.
I’m here, sweating it out in a dimly lit basement, but the energy permeates the darkness. You can feel the bass grooving even as you approach J&J’s from the surface. This isn’t your basic thrash and bang – this has emotion. They’re ready to kick off the day with high spirits – and I’m right there with them. You can feel the investment these guys have in every chord, in every snare, in every beat. They’re here purely to play and share the music that they love – say what you will about the genre, but these guys make you love the high-octane jam-fest.
With church pews and Virgin Mary murals adorning this intimate basement, it’s hard not to feel like I’m at the altar of punk. And I do confess – I’ve been converted. I’ve seen the light, even if it is just a green light behind the drummer. The saviors of the hangover bring us all to punk nirvana.
According to the crowd: punk isn’t dead. It just passed out for a bit. With all the moshing and headbanging, I think we can give them a break. The Buzzkills don’t let up.
The funky grooves were nice – but the crew comes out, and it’s time to turn up. It’s an entrance that only “the Great” can make and he deserves nothing less.
Only a man of his clout can bring a retinue of orchestral accompaniment and avoid any claims of excess. It takes greatness to bring together so many disparate influences – strings, sax, guitar solos, samples – and create something cohesive. And to bring the audience in, draw them in with so many sounds? He’s czar of sound and he’s got us seized by the ear.
Whether it’s appearance or authentic, the man shows his appreciation for his roots. There’s no doubt that he loves his hometown – and he won’t let up until he’s sure we love it too.
I’m overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds coming from the stage, but I have no desire to go. It’s a captivating energy that only an MC can bring out in me, despite a crowd pulsing with heat. He knows he’s got us hooked on every lyric, every shift of key, and every new arrangement of DJ and backing band.
But these words are limiting – I’ll just let the man flow.
I scamper in to Dan’s Silverleaf’s for the tail end of this performance. Man, I’m hungry – the chill waves of homegrown music will do just fine for my appetite. It’s a small venue and even smaller crowd – but the space is filled. They bridge the distance. The instruments are only the conduits for something real, something heartfelt and true to the trio on stage. The chill, surfer vibes mingle with raw emotive vocals to create an atmosphere of rum on the beach, twilit nights, and fire-side intoxication.
Boys, unlike the words of your song – don’t ever be sorry for partying. Keep the swells of sound coming to my shores.
His is not the sound of fury, but deftly struck strings accompany a flurry of words and story unmatched by any other performer. He’s simple, solo, standing alone on stage, and the audience is sparse- but the song is intimate, like words spoken across pillows between late night lovers. It’s that very image of a sensual candle-flame glow that guides the flow of this music. Melancholy, maybe, as a confessional, but there is no booth to separate singer from spectator.
Then, something more uplifting – he’s taking us out on the road. He may be alone but the loop pedal is his chorus, his phantom backing band, and most musicians fail to make such well-executed use without dependence. He’s free to focus on the yarn he’s spinning, a tapestry of story woven with steel strings and vocal cords, free of bravado or excessive production.
Just as the atoms of fallen friends and muses float about, even still, long after their passing, so too do the notes of his performance continue to resonate, hours later. It’s haunting, what the minimal, folksy guitar can do when you give it a voice.
If Bob Dylan and Charles Bukowski had a love child – well, it’d be much more monstrous than Chinaski, the Fury. But I know they would be proud to adopt this prodigal, Denton son.
Suddenly, it’s dusk. Between Banter and the main stage, the sun has passed and the night is in full swing. The lighting for the main stage is like a late night worship, warm red pillars subtly illuminating the altar of the stage, though we burn no midnight oil save the day’s fading sweats.
There’s a single man on stage, no instruments, puppet-master-like hand movements which relay to us our bass-driven synth hymns.
The electronic scene comes out. Glow sticks and glove shows dotting the crowd. Glowing hula-hoops, green and red photo-drones hovering overhead. You can almost feel the growing pains of an expanding Denton, in this moment, where the little local scene has become enveloped in something bigger, communal, not limited to one town or metroplex but evocative of stadium-level concerts nationwide.
The hearty bass thrums deep in my chest, sustained like the hum of a plane at take off. There’s little going on, visually, no exaggerated movements on the part of a performing band. Simply a single man, his computer, and the little surgical movements which mark the songs’ progressions.
There’s something haunting, in the red-lit pillars and the reverb of the sound. It’s that dark energy at a club. There’s no pretense of cheeriness – we’re losing ourselves to the rhythm of the crowd, to the beat of the night, foregoing the daily problems that we must face come morning. We know that the energy could tip over and shatter at any moment – and still we rage against the dying of the night.
A circle forms, two, three people. Expanding with the talent. People see. Lights come on. They steal the show right away from the main stage. A dancer, two, moving in deft synchronicity with the music, until it seems as if the music comes from them, emanating from the flicks of wrist and the jaunts of leg; an explosive energy that gives me the best kind of whiplash imaginable. I’m entranced, and music becomes background to the emerging performance.
Even a little raver joined in, a young boy covered in glow sticks, and topped with the craziest toddler mohawk I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. Do I even need to tell you that he stole the show?
The last song is aural molasses, and the dancers move with that underwater fluidity fitting the music. Three of them, like shifting tree branches, ticking cogs in the clockwork, moving in the ink of dimly lit night. If words could capture these flowing moments, I’d write you an essay. I’d tell you how the sounds and the movements lost any sense of separation. I’d tell you that a growing number of people stood stupefied, entranced, drowning in the growing waves of talent washing over the crowd, and you’d think we’d all had a bit too much to drink.
Maybe you’d be right – but sometimes, you really did just have to be there.
Welcome to Denton, fellas. I think I speak for many when I say that it’s sublime, having such a big name performing on such a big stage in the parking lot where I so casually frequent on my daily mundane bar-runs. The group truly is larger than Denton, larger than any single area, really – their lyrics speak to that. Perhaps the most political performance, Immortal Technique brings an evangelical delivery to an otherwise perpetually mellow, free-spirited city. They force the late-night crowd to see the world picture outside of this small, local portrait – if only for a brief moment between sips of Lone Star. Still, the lyrics raise the hairs on your arms.
Like television preachers, Immortal Technique cuts to the core of their vision of the human condition. Apparently, brisket is the realest, and Dickey’s is the truth.
After sweating it out two nights in a row in line, I’m finally in. Like a VIP club, it feels selective, exclusionary, and it feels like vindication to finally set foot in Neon Indian’s audience. His set does not disappoint. Though Hailey’s might have lended itself to a rave-like rage-fest, Dan’s Silverleaf creates an intimacy unmatched in larger venues. Despite the claims that fame has gotten to his head, Alan Polomo takes us all back to his house show DJ roots with this performance. It’s all by hand, analog, with every track flowing seamlessly into the next – one giant, cathartic dance session, much needed after so long a wait.
And so, the night ends. Neon Indian is gone, off to bigger things, faster than I can get a word in. Oaktopia comes to a close, though no dystopia is to follow. Bittersweet ending, maybe, but a weekend of waiting was never more worth-while. I hope the sun finds us all in high-spirits, despite the inevitable hangovers, and that one of Denton’s brightest sons finds his way back, delivering syncopated beats and drawing sweat-fatigued lines of fans, before too long.