Advance warning: this is gonna be long, in part because a show with 19 bands is a lot to talk about, and also because I have some excuses for lackluster coverage to make up front; if you want to get right to the “this band played, and other bands played after in succession” part, skip down five paragraphs. Otherwise, what follows is a somewhat-indulgent but arguably thorough description of my trip to Dreamy Life’s Group Therapy Vol. 4 release party at Shipping and Receiving on Sunday. It was fun. If you missed it, we all wish you’d been there.
To put it bluntly, I had lofty aspirations for covering this show. Grandiose, even, the sort of designs where your imagination confidently assures your actual abilities that the sky’s the limit, and nobody needs to worry about anything. To put that into context, the show had almost 20 acts booked between the outdoor biergarten’s stage and the floor-space-and-PA-band-zone set up in the lounge, and my intention was to watch all of them, video a minute or two of each performance, and then edit them all into one big supercut, with clever yet sensible cuts between one band’s verse and the next band’s chorus, guitarists’ commentary bracketing their own solo sections, etc.
Never mind that I’ve never edited a video of anything in my life, nor, if we’re being honest, ever even uploaded one to YouTube. I guess I assumed that if I can cobble together an Instagram clip to promote a show or a DJ gig, how hard could making a live concert video reel be? As far as I know, video editing is something that children do in their sleep these days, and since I am not technically a child, it would therefore be a snap, an activity I might learn to do at the drop of a hat, possibly even as a fulfilling career – like I’d teach myself editing with a Group Therapy Vol. 4 supercut today and collect an Academy Award tomorrow. Needless to say, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, as I type this, YouTube is processing the clip I uploaded of Bitch Brick’s second song, so I don’t even know if I have achieved that basic level of technological application. [Editor’s note: he got that part right at least].
I’ll partly lay blame for my failure upon my outdated mobile device, an iPhone 5 that holds a charge about as strongly as a newborn can hang onto a baseball bat – it didn’t help that I showed up with my phone struggling at 63%, and when it crapped out after attempting to record part of a Movie the Band song, well, I shouldn’t have been shocked that plugging it into a charger I found at the Dreamy Life merch table wasn’t going to miraculously save the day, nor even get enough juice to record ten seconds of BULLS’ performance.
I failed at capturing video, but I also failed at seeing all the bands. Rapper Juma Spears kicked the show off at 2 pm, but I didn’t make it over in time to catch his set. I did see him later near the bar, after he’d been dumped into the Dreamy Life dunk tank, part of a small midway that included a Tex Mex food truck, a dart-throwing game, and a kissing booth. Since I’m mentioning that I missed some bands, in the spirit of full disclosure, I also missed the sets by Antirad and The Prof. Fuzz 63, for which I am genuinely sorry – I’ve listened to the former and watched the latter at a prior gig, enjoying both experiences. Suffice to say, if this covering this show were a 19-question test, the best score I could hope for was a B+, though I’d venture that fucking up the video was like bombing a heavily-weighted essay section.
Anyway, the first band I watched was Mean Motor Scooter, who basically set the bar for “inside voice,” the upper threshold of which could be considered, “totally loud.” Their high-gain power-trio-plus-keyboard sound is pretty bombastic; inside the concrete walls of Shipping’s lounge, they were thunderous. I did manage to video an entire song of theirs; if it ever makes it onto the Internet, you’ll be amused by the people walking in front of my phone – thanks for trying to the people who went to the trouble of ducking.
The stages alternated ever half-hour, and Movie the Band was up next, playing outside at 4pm. If you like Pavement and hate traffic, this band basically targets your heartstrings and gives them a good yank, because they literally have a song about that being stuck on I-35, wrapped in a wistful melody that floats in and out of effects-pedal-laden guitar clang. I didn’t care much about Pavement when that band was current, so I feel like getting onboard with MTB is an acceptable penance.
Movie the Band was followed by Starbass Laboratories; the electro duo’s snazzy getups and light show are better-suited for the dark, and the sun was still up and filtering through S&R’s open garage door, but their music was still pretty entertaining, as was co-frontman Peter Gilliland, who also doubled as the day’s MC. As much as I dug most of the day’s music, it was Gilliland’s effort to promote each band’s upcoming gigs in his introductions that impressed me, as well as his general schtick – I thought I might get tired of his airhorn impression after the fourth time he did it, but hours later, when he introduced Pearl Earl and made the noise, I still found myself cracking up. Part of his job was to get the crowd to transition from outside to inside and back again between each band’s set, and he did it with the enthusiasm and aplomb of the world’s greatest summer camp activities counselor – I half expected him to lead everyone to the archery course after Bitch Bricks was done.
His dreadlocks bouncing behind him, Peter Gilliland sprinted back outside after his Starbass set to introduce Acid Carousel, the Dallas-based six-piece that blends garage, surf, and psychedelia into high-energy, reverb-splashed power-pop. As an old person, I was struck by how many members had X’s marked on their hands, and as such, I found myself repeating (as old people are wont to do) how good they were for being so young. Wanna know what I was doing when I was 20? If you were at the show, I probably told you at least twice. But it was most certainly not playing guitar in a kickass rock band.
Where are we at on this bands list, btw? Only 12 bands to go? Well, the next one was Doom Ghost, who played inside and provided a nice garage rock soundtrack for me to wait on a burrito from the Crown Catering food truck, the combination of which made me feel a little bit like I was in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Doom Ghost’s late-nite party, low-fi vibe was nice, and the burrito was delicious, and much bigger than I expected, made with pastor, rice, beans, guac, sour cream, and spicy salsa stuffed into a perfectly grilled flour tortilla, the kind that’s just crispy enough to keep the fillings from spilling onto your lap. Served with some Tostitos rounds generously slathered with nacho cheese, I thought the burrito was a steal at $9, especially since it was about the size of a dachshund.
Doom Ghost finished as I polished off my burrito, so I stayed outside and watched Bitch Bricks, one of my favorite Fort Worth bands. Frontwoman Schuyler Stapleton’s guitar tone and voice are both haunting combinations of sweet and snarl, and over the thud of Alana Springer’s drums and the melodic pulse of Jen Rux’s bass runs, Stapleton’s melodies are hypnotic. Some friends of mine from Dallas were summarily blown away. “Pretty cool, right?” I said. My friend Emily nodded. “I want to take a polaroid of her, but I’m embarrassed!” she said, but she sheepishly stalked to the front of the stage and snapped a shot of Schuyler anyway. I thought that was funny; I figured Schuyler probably thought it was endearing.
I went inside after Bitch Bricks to vvatch VVOES, but I’d seen them the night before at the Boiled Owl and ended up ducking back outside after I’d caught a few songs. With their current lineup (Riley Pennock is on drums, and a kid I don’t know totally rips on bass), the band is at the top of their game, and I expended some precious phone charge recording a song, thinking it would be great to include in my video supercut delusion, but the footage kinda sucked – not because of the band, but because the sun was going down and everything I captured was difficult to see.
Outside, BULLS were setting up, coinciding with what appeared to be an uptick in the event’s attendance. I have more to say about the event’s average crowd size, but for future reference, BULLS are a local band every Fort Worth music fan should see, and I was glad they had a good number of eager faces to melt and ears to scorch. Again, I tried to grab some video, but my phone failed for good and I gave up. And frankly, a video wouldn’t do them justice; BULLS are a band you need to experience live. After their set, Peter Gilliland pointed out that they’ll be on the roof of Melt on Magnolia during Arts Goggle. Lucky for Melt, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to liquefy a bunch of ice cream with guitar volume, otherwise their inventory would be doomed.
The sun went down after BULLS finished, so I stepped back inside to watch Toy Gun, whose uncompromising, anthemic punk rock typically hits me in the heart circuits, but three songs in, my brain circuits reminded me that I had a bunch of cash I’d sternly earmarked for paying bills that was burning a hole in my wallet, so I took a break and walked down to the Chase on Rosedale and Hemphill to make a deposit. When I came back, Toy Gun had finished, and Dallas-by-way-of-Waco-surf punks Loafers were outside, bashing through their second-to-last song. I watched their rowdy closer, “Bobby,” which found bassist/vocalist Savannah Loftin throwing herself to the stage and shredding licks on her back. It made me glad I’d gone to yoga; if I tried that move, I’d probably stay down for the rest of my life.
Sub-Sahara, also from Dallas, were in the next indoor slot, and hands-down, they were probably my favorite set of the day. I guess you’d call their music post-punk, because the trio’s driving, hard-edged pop probably hits the mental spots that Joy Division songs typically appeal to. But they also put on an engagingly physical performance, the kind of energy you see in a good thrash band. I kinda geeked out over the frontman’s basslines, but the guitarist was no less dynamic, and the drummer was as tight as a Rolex – without any hyperbole, Sub-Sahara is a band to keep track of, because it’s highly possible they could break into musical conversations outside North Texas, and you’ll want the satisfaction of being able to say you saw them before they appeared on Brooklyn Vegan’s radar. I hope to brag about this to someone from Williamsburg or Los Feliz as soon as I can.
As the cliché goes, Sub-Sahara were a tough act to follow – even though the party’s remaining bands can arguably hold their own as headliners – so it’s a good thing the next slot was Sealion’s. The Dallas-based, surf-influenced punk rockers can carry just about any bill, but they really shine when surrounded with their Dreamy Life compadres, especially when a bunch of them jump onstage the join the band on backing bro-cals on “All We Know,” the penultimate track on their 2013 album Kenneth. Of course that happened, and seeing as how Sealion went on at hour 7 of a 9-hour festival in a slot during which a lot of the crowd’s vibe might have started to flag, I could tell that their signature closer put the wind back in everyone’s sails.
The Fibs went on indoors pretty close to 9:30, and at that point, I realized that Dreamy Life’s celebratory festival actually stuck to the schedule, which is more than can be said about a lot of shows with far fewer bands. I also realized that if the Fibs are ever offered a gig during daylight hours, they should politely decline – not only do they routinely play with some form of psychedelic lighting (in this case it was projections from Def Rain’s Grant Ring and his buddy whose name I unfortunately forget), but the three-piece’s music, a shadowy, psyche-influenced new-wave borne on singer-guitarist Preston Newberry’s gothic baritone and the FX-slathered chime of his guitar conjures mental images of neon lights and rainy nights reflecting on the windows of featureless, passing cars. The Fibs closed with “Simply Divine,” the new single written for Group Therapy Vol. 4, joined by professional soprano Allison Stanford on backing vocals. The Fibs had dropped a video for this song a few days before, and it seemed like everyone watching their show eagerly anticipated Stanford’s operatic finish, because they all went wild when she loosed that last extended note.
Denton’s Pearl Earl hit the outdoor stage next – like Sealion, they drew one of the biggest crowds of the show, but that’s no surprise because they’re basically established local pros at this point. I’ve always thought that their music, though superficially similar to female-fronted bands like the B-52s, carries a darker edge underneath all the reverb and pop hooks – if you’ve ever been on mushrooms and needed to take a break in the bathroom because your trip got a little weird or too giddy, that’s the vibe I think Pearl Earl songs are always on the verge of. They’re also smartly arranged and tightly played, so no matter what you’re getting out of the music, they always put on a good show.
Teenage Sexx also put on a good show – it was my first time to see them, so I can’t definitively say “always,” but I assume that even a bad Teenage Sexx gig is better than a lot of other band’s good ones. I guess I’d generally identify them as pop punk, but they’re also a rowdy rock ’n roll band who write catchy songs, projecting a stage presence that’s infectious – the crowd around them goes from standard-issue, enjoying-a-band head nodding to active, loose-limbed engagement.
War Party closed out the night. I was at the bar, talking with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while when I heard them play “Nolo Mori.” Later, they launched in the singalong party anthem “D.R.U.N.K.” an older song they don’t really play that often, and that sort of set me into a reflective/nostalgic mental cruise, thinking about how, vis a vis the lyrics of both of those songs, I was happy to be alive and glad not to be hammered, as well as a few other ponder-points like why weren’t there twice as many people there, and, moreover, how, despite the fact that half the bands’ membership were under the age of 25, there weren’t a lot of younger people in attendance. BULLS guitarist Jeff Schlueter are about the same age, and he and I had talked about that earlier. Our consensus was that back when we were in our teens (an era which, after watching Acid Carousel display the indefatigable power of youth, might as well have been the Cenozoic), going to a concert featuring 19 bands for $15 across ten hours would’ve been a no-brainer for both ourselves and our parents. My mom would’ve probably paid for me to go, and given me burrito money, to boot. He said his kids, who are both around the age of 10, “watch YouTube videos of other kids watching YouTube videos,” and I cracked up at how absurdly meta that is. And, truth be told, I missed the first three sets of the day because I was doing something else (a yoga class, as it happens) and didn’t want to bail on it to see bands. I suppose my sentiment, writ large across a bunch of teenagers sitting at home, busily consuming video games, or pizza, or YouTube videos (expertly edited and uploaded) of other teenagers consuming video games, or pizza, or YouTube videos of other teenagers consuming video games or pizza in their own homes on a Sunday afternoon explains a lot.
The funny counterpoint to “where is everybody?” however, is that Dreamy Life impresario and War Party frontman Cameron Smith told me the other day how he had trouble finding bands to fill the first Group Therapy compilation. The Volume One tape, recorded in November of 2012, has sixteen songs, seven of which by bands that no longer exist, and one by Great Big Beluga, now known as Vicious Firs. It was also released under the auspices of “Lo-Life Recordings & Dreamy Soundz,” two separate labels that would merge a year or two later to form Dreamy Life Records, an entity that’s released the majority of music I and most other local critics, bands, and fans would consider “current.” I don’t have any misconceptions about how Dreamy Life is the next Sub-Pop or similar hyperboles, but in terms of Fort Worth’s music scene, circa 2017, the label is the main game in town and the driving force behind much of truly captivating and/or relevant music currently coming out of Cowtown. And in contrast to the 16 bands that contributed songs to that original Group Therapy comp, Vol. 4 has twenty-eight. Twenty-eight bands! If Dreamy Life and its annual compilation albums are a good indication of what’s going on in Fort Worth music, I’d say then that Fort Worth music is booming, regardless of where the fans were on Sunday. Admittedly, about a third of the bands on Vol. 4 come from Dallas, Denton, or parts in between, but even that’s remarkable, because it shows that a local label in the city that perpetually skulks about in Dallas’ shadow can be a big deal indeed. So whether or not you (or me, as the case may be) caught all 19 acts (with your own eyes or through a video’s filter) at the Dreamy Life show on Sunday, at least be stoked that there were so many bands you couldn’t see them all.