On Saturday night, I looked around the Live Oak’s main room at the masses bouncing along to Skeleton Coast, dancing in a flood of the Fort Worth band’s spacey reverb and phased guitars. Bathed in green light from gel lamps overhead, the five guys onstage practically crackled with the energy looping between them and the throngs on the floor. The green gave way to blues and violets as the stage’s backdrop, a plus sign-shaped screen made from elongated hexagonal sections, lit up with swirling, psychedelic projections reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon’s journeys through hyperspace. The band bent into the opening note of “World,” and the crowd cheered. “Thank Christ,” I thought. “There’s finally a show like this at the Live Oak.”
Of course all of the performances were awesome, starting with the first act of the night, Son of Stan, the solo project of singer-songwriter/drummer Jordan Richardson (Ben Harper & The Relentless7, EPIC RUINS). Crewed by several of my friends (including his dad, Stan, on percussion), S.O.S. played to a room about three-quarters full, notable because this was the band’s inaugural show. The guys absolutely crushed, with proggy pop hooks that more than a few people already knew the words to.
Then Skeleton Coast came on. They were releasing their full-length eponymous debut LP –– copies were available at the merch booth –– and by the end of their set, they’d sold out. I imagined all of those vinyls hitting a bunch of turntables around 2:30 a.m. under a collective psychic blur of after-hours couchlocks and very recent memories of a sensory miasma made of sight and sound.
Burning Hotels headlined, and watching 300 heads bob along to the band’s buoyant dance pop under the sturm and drang of professional lighting was like being at an intimate concert by the kind of rock band that gets tons of money to play festivals around the world.
In fact, Saturday night’s concert at the Live Oak was as bombastic and enthralling as that from any buzz band in town from Austin or Brooklyn or London. I was especially proud of the fact that this was a mostly local-band bill that had packed the house and melted faces and not some lineup of expensive “indie” acts from elsewhere. I feel like this venue deserves to have big, maxed-out shows, and I’m glad to see local bands deliver them.
Last spring, DFW.com ran some fluff about the then-inchoate venue, quoting owner Bill Smith as saying, “I want to appeal to a little quieter, a little more reserved crowd, with more expensive table seating and wait staff.” When I read that, I basically wrote the place off. And, true to his word, the Live Oak’s calendar quickly filled up with a bunch of folky acts I’d never heard of, plus the mustache half of Hall & Oates. There are probably two, maybe three, concert halls catering to adult-contemporary acoustic music in the entire world, and for good reason. The genre isn’t horrible, by any stretch, but it’s an acquired taste. Like accordion-based rap or heavy-metal klezmer. In other words, acoustic A.C. is very niche-y.
Since then, however, Live Oak’s booking has been blessedly more plebian. Say what you want about the growing pains associated with trying to be three businesses — bar, venue, restaurant — at the same time, but the joint’s entertainment quotient has vastly improved. I’ve been to several local shows (and played one, which was a great experience), all of which boasted decent-or-better crowds and great sound. I can also vouch for the food. Live Oak’s menu might be a little pricey, but an item like the Dante Burger is worth every penny. Coupled with a veritable Who’s Who of service industry hotshots on staff, Live Oak’s other aim (sorta-fancy gastropub) is just as on-point.
The show on Saturday proved that the Live Oak, for all of its logistical hiccups, rebranding, and shifts in vision, is more than worth visiting. The Hotels/Skeleton Coast/S.O.S. bill would’ve been just as thrilling at The Where House, but at the Live Oak it was elevated to a professional level by the strength of the acts and the venue’s considerable arsenal of amenities: top-of-the-line sound, brain-dazzling light show capabilities, plus high-end food and beer offerings. Better still, the crowd came in droves for local bands, not for some Suspenders and Harmonies Banjo Band from Austin or Denton or an acoustic solo set by a relic from the Members Only era. This was one of the best shows of the year, given to us to us by people who legitimately care about making Fort Worth’s music scene something to write home about, at a beautiful new venue that can help that very scene mark its spot on the map. –– Steve Steward
The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge
1311 Lipscomb St, FW. 817-926-0968.
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