One of Goodwin’s first shows was around 2004 at the now-shuttered Wreck Room.
All kinds of random folks came out – young, old, hip, square – and, seemingly overnight, the rock quartet went from cool new band to the local band to beat. Even the young’uns didn’t seem to mind forking over precious U.S. dinero to watch four thirtysomething men in matching dress shirts and neckties kick out good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n roll. Not quite Cheap Trick, not quite Phantom Planet (Cheap Planet? Phantom Trick?!), the tuneage was something in between, its influences familiar but untraceable, like a dream that jolted you awake but was, to your great frustration, just beyond your recall.
A few months later, though, and – ka-blam-o! – reality. A bunch of hip, young, and fashionably skinny 817-rockers blew up, specifically Green River Ordinance, Titanmoon, Black Tie Dynasty, and The Burning Hotels, which underlined, italicized, bolded, and put in ALL CAPS a harsh and immutable law of the entertainment world: Most normal people would rather pay to see rock ‘n roll – or anything, really – performed by young, hip, and fashionably skinny individuals than by thirtysomething dudes whose primes seem to be receding faster than a missed exit in a rear-view mirror. And Goodwin has been trying to regain ground ever since.
The band’s recently released sophomore album has been several years in the making. A lot has happened in the meantime. Frontman Tony Diaz got married, guitarist Daniel Gomez’ wife had two more kids, drummer Damien Stewart got busier at work, and bassist Matt Hembree has played and may still be playing in about 30 other bands, including Pablo and the Hemphill 7 and The Underground Railroad. There even was a reunion show by Bindle, Diaz and Gomez’ old band. What, then, would impel four seemingly well-adjusted, ostensibly sane adults to see through to completion an album that, while phenomenal, may have little or no bearing on their careers? Vanity? Insanity? A friendly wager?
All plausible explanations, but the most likely has to do with justice. Intentionally or not, Goodwin 2 is a statement, a straight-talkin’ correction writ in rawk and aimed at the stylish leaders of the coup, starting with the first track, “Revelation of Revolution.” The intro is innocent enough. Gomez casually strums a charged chord, and as it rings, Diaz begins to sing. As he goes through the lyric “I don’t wanna be the only one / To make noise from the crowd,” he’s met at the middle and end of each line by a different ringing chord. The disparate parts unite in a dramatic pause, at which point the listener might realize he’s been teased into exposing his chin to a knockout punch. Into the empty air swings a riff. A simple combination of chords, part jangly, part thunderous, it sounds like something the Foo Fighters would have cooked up or maybe Peter Frampton fronting Drowning Pool. The drums skitter into focus, as if they’ve been running late. The bass follows suit, and all three instruments gang up on the staccato rhythm – they punch it, pound it, bash it, drop atomic elbows on it. They really hammer the thing, and when they finally break that bunch of wild notes and kick it into full gallop – over a Soundgarden and into Nirvana – Diaz makes like Roger Daltrey and yells: “Eee-yeaaaaahhhhh-ohhhhh!!!” Loose translation: “Welcome to Rock 101, pretty boys.”
Goodwin’s music is prog-rock-ish though not necessarily knotty, more along the lines of The Replacements and the Foos, less Tool or Rush. Goodwin’s technical goodies tend to reside beneath the surface, beneath the Beatlesesque melodies and two-part harmonies, the Frampton-DP riffage, and the stomping beats. “Revelation of Revolution,” come to think of it, achieves complexity in simplicity. After Diaz’ scream, the song settles into a punchy back and forth between verse and chorus. Each verse, basically, is a call-and-response between Diaz and Gomez – Diaz sings a lyric, Gomez’ ax spits a riff, and to and fro the tug of war goes. The chorus reprises the intro – minus the shout – though instead of just Diaz, Gomez, and currents of quietly roiling aggression, the passage calls on the rest of the band, bassist Hembree and drummer Stewart. As with most Goodwin numbers, the additional noise here is nothing less than essential, neither better nor worse than the song’s pared-down bits, just different. Down the homestretch, Diaz summons his inner Daltrey again, and just as his first holler benefits from the tense moments that precede it, the second profits from the previous three minutes of snowballing energy.
The average Goodwin song, in fact, is loaded with pushing and pulling. Melodies and rhythms cluster together and scatter, seemingly by accident, like dodgems racing toward the same checkered flag – sometimes they zip along in an orderly flock, sometimes they playfully bump into one another. On “Progress is Lonely,” a crowd favorite finally committed to tape, the three instrumentalists turn their backs on one another and walk in different directions but at the same pace. Stewart’s drums march straight ahead, Hembree’s bass zigs and zags, and Gomez’ guitar sprints and stops, sprints and stops, sprints and stops. But the instruments come together for the chorus, a big, bright splash of honeybrown ’70s soft-rock, and follow Gomez’ choppy lead all the way to the end.
The chorus itself isn’t fancy, just a simple lyric – “I know something / You know something” – that Diaz repeats several times and that, as soon as the rhythm steadies, leads to a complete thought: “… way down,” he sings, his voice even and direct. “Won’t you find me out / Could you find me out?” As a lyricist, Diaz is grossly under-appreciated. His subjects don’t distinguish him – his themes of love, ignominy, and loss are universal – but his framing of them does. One his strongest pieces is “Airport,” a 4/4 toe-tapper from the band’s eponymous debut. As in most rock songs, the singer here is either desperately in love or just a pollyanna. The object of his affection is a frequent flier (a flight attendant? a salesperson? a movie star?), and, to Diaz’ credit, you don’t have to have dated a jetsetter to recognize the singer’s specific kind of heartache. During a bridge, as drummer Stewart bludgeons his snare and high-hat, two sticks at a time – bang! bang! bang! bang! – Diaz sings, “I’m not there, I will be soon / I’ll see the world, I’ll see it with you / There’s no difference in what you think and what you should hear” (meaning that even if I am hurt, what good does telling you do?).
Seriously, though, how solid can a relationship be with someone who isn’t home much and is jetting off to exotic ports of call during the week? But, as the singer claims after a slight pause and the song returns to its original, toe-tapping tempo, “It doesn’t bring me down / All your flyin’ around / If I hear just a word / From anywhere in the world / Then I’m good.” (Toward the very end of the song, as the band is slowly climbing to a crescendo, Diaz repeats the lyric three times – I’ve always thought that his last words should be, “It doesn’t bring me down / All your fucking around,” which would indicate the singer is not as naïve as he may be letting on. But. Whatever.) “Not Impressed” has almost as many telling details as “Airport,” but as the latter is guilelessly hopeful, the former is outraged and suicidal. Ironically, both songs deal with air travel, though the kind in “Not Impressed” is only slightly worse than flying business class: “Lean into the wind / I’m picking out my spot down there,” Diaz sings. “… With one foot over I’ve begun / … As I’m falling from the sky / With a twinkle in my eye / How much farther must I fall ’til you’re impressed?”
Diaz also can turn a cute, incisive phrase, as in “Write For You,” another valentine to a crush: “And on my right shoe / I wrote the tune / ‘Please don’t let me walk too far away,'” – just in case the singer decides to give up, he can glean encouragement from his footwear. He goes on: “And on my shoestring / I scribbled one thing / ‘Please keep me here intertwined / And help me keep this tongue in line, OK?'” In other words, don’t let me get discouraged, sweet duds o’ mine, and also don’t let me say anything stupid (e.g., “keep this tongue in line”). Feets, don’t fail me now! Diaz’ honest, unvarnished, masculine (even when pleading) voice, arguably, defines Goodwin. Running a close second is Gomez’ guitar tone, a warm, buzzing sound to which he administers exquisite touch and feel. Every note is a star in his hands, even when he’s rocking dozens of them at a time, as in “Apparently.” Wide open and propulsive, the song has an air of epic irrevocability – it’s the kind of melancholy-tinged pick-me-up you’d hear during the end credits of a buddy-comedy movie. Though his strumming arm is in constant motion, keeping the speakers full of music, he never threatens to fog up the simple, gleaming main melody.
Sloppiness, which is often mistaken for “raw ‘tude,” is, frankly, beneath Gomez, Diaz, and company, who are all too old – oops, I mean, “experienced” – and have been playing far too long to forget what they’ve learned and start experimenting. Agreed, there is a certain magic to controlled chaos. But unless you’re Sonic Youth or Sun Ra, or are in some other way committed to letting your instruments play you, as most outré acts are, “raw” normally comes off as plain ol’ “sloppy.” With certain exceptions, Goodwin’s music is tighter than a B-movie budget. I wouldn’t say it’s clean – there are lots of ragged edges and frayed ends – just well put together, each component moving in harmony with every other, even though some components may be cleaner, shinier, or less squeaky than others.
Drummer Stewart sounds as if he’s playing from a speeding wooden roller coaster. Every part of his kit, from his toms to his cymbals and high-hat – even to his chair – seems to be swaying all at once, the stands loosening and growing creaky at every turn. Bassist Hembree mixes chords and progressions effortlessly. He can ram a song into your skull as effectively as he can add texture and emotive flourishes. The last track, the ballad “Trading Up,” is a duet between his bass and Diaz. A lone plucked riff, which sounds like a jazzy-blue version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” bubbles alongside the singer’s deep regret. “How do you pay attention when all your attention’s being poured in a glass?” Diaz sings. “And it’s not as funny when you’re the only one who laughs.” The singer has “traded a mountain for a hole in the ground.” The song wouldn’t have worked any other way.
The rhythm section drives the considerably darker, second half of the album. “Two Again,” probably Goodwin 2’s best song, is as austere, structurally, as bombastic rock can be: just two meaty, alternating choruses and a single, delicate bridge. No need for introductions. Stewart busts out a raucous beat, all crashing cymbals, stuttering bass drum, and snapping snare, as Diaz barks: “Lost in the sound of a livid word was the point / Of what I was trying to say / It’s getting hard with a will that soft to get off / The meaning of you and me every day.” The song crunches to a series of stops, and Diaz’ voice gets lighter and less authoritative, complementing the resignation in the lyrics: “I’m wasting my time / You really don’t mind.” His voice rises toward a crescendo that arrives at exactly 25 seconds in. “I won’t break if I ever grew / Two more things away from you.”
“Telekinesis vs. Indifference” comes on as a blaring militaristic march: dum-dada-dum-dada-dum. After a sparkling coda springs up, the march, surprisingly, turns down a dark alley. The beat softens, which does nothing but ramp up its sinister pulse. It thrums forward a few more steps before opening up into a ghost chorus – the full chorus doesn’t happen until the second half of the song, and it might be the high point of the entire album. Over a blasting rhythm, with Gomez rocking barre chords and Stewart and Hembree smashing everything in sight, Diaz sings, “See me movin’ / See us movin’ / Should be / Movin’.” There are no words to adequately convey the melancholy and finality of things – of a relationship, of love, of life itself – at work here. You have to hear it for yourself.
Goodwin 2 is relentlessly brutal but in the most pleasing, charming manner, like what I’ve always imagined being beaten up by Muhammad Ali would feel like: Though your ears are ringing and your solar plexus is sore, you want the fight to keep going, just so you can keep watching him. “Just take a seat, pretty boy,” the champ says, reassuringly and somewhat sympathetically. “It’ll be over soon.”
Fri w/Sunday Drive, The Me-Thinks, and The Backsliders at Ridglea Theater, 6025 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. 817-738-9500.