There’s no telling what the answer might have been when posed to the public writ large (getting pedicures?), but to us as insular, daylight-fearing music obsessives, the obvious response to the question often bandied about during the foul and contemptible year of 2020, “What do you miss most about life pre-COVID?” was easy: “live shows.” Admittedly, live music isn’t for everyone. There’s commonly lots of standing, it’s loud, and, because musicians selfishly refuse to work for free, there is often a cover fee charged at the door just to enter the building!
I get that this isn’t everyone’s bag, and, if not, there are plenty of other ways to spend your time and money, such as, I dunno, getting pedicures? But if you’re like us, and guitars on the verge of feedback, 808s kicking a hole in your chest, and a single human’s deific voice filling every corner of a cavernous venue like a giant fluffy cat in the confines of God’s own discarded Amazon box are your unequivocal jam, the return of live music this past year was a blessing on par with the rains down in you know where. Thanks to folks responsibly vaccinating and/or masking up starting in the spring, venues around town began to open in a way that made artists both big and … less big … as well as their attendees safe to join together again. Here are just a few of our favorite times when that happened. — P.H.
Uncle Toasty made its live debut in November at MASS. They came out swinging, fully delivering on frontman Jeffrey Chase Friedman’s intent to show people a good time. The bill was stacked with Phantomelo, the Road Soda, the Me-Thinks, and Siamese Hips, and the room was packed with a crowd that hung in there until the last distorted chord disintegrated into the ether.
Uncle Toasty’s breakneck take on nü-grunge amped the room into a frenzy, and the energy felt kinetic, in part because the band undoubtedly made a bunch of new fans, many of whom caromed off one another in a mosh pit that started early in the set and never really dissipated. If you’d forgotten what a party a live show could be, Uncle Toasty was a thunderous reminder.
After spending most of 2020 without watching any bands, going to a local venue to catch a local act was reaffirming — consoling, even — in the sense that, as bad as the world is, there are still joys from the Time Before that persist and transcend the shitty circumstances of the present. That was my inner monologue’s take on the situation as I let the bass and drums wash over my brain during a Pablo and the Hemphill 7 set at MASS on July 2. Though I’ve been watching PH7 lay down dubby, dance-y versions of reggae classics for 20 years now, it never gets old, and, at this particular show, they nearly moved me to tears, so starved had I been to hear and feel subsonic frequencies pulse out of huge speakers.
The next night, I saw Quaker City Nighthawks stroll onto Wild Acre’s enormous outdoor stage to rock a commensurately enormous crowd. It was high summer, coming up on Independence Day, and I was baked like an apple pie. The spider that found its way into my beer and drowned was more of an amusing feature of the night rather than a bug, and, as the QCNH dudes vamped through their decade’s worth of stoner-y Southern boogie, I was reminded that America invented rock ’n’ roll, for which I will always be grateful. — S.S.
One kickass event took place in early July when Tulips FTW teamed up with Magnolia Skate Shop to transform the Near Southside venue into a veritable skate park. Psych-rockers Siamese Hips and shoegazers Trauma Ray headlined a bill that rocked a packed house while skaters shredded on a half-pipe constructed on the back patio.
Another highlight of the summer was the grand reopening of Lola’s Saloon. One of our favorite music spots was packed shoulder-to-shoulder for a lineup of unquestioned rockaroll. Royal Sons, Arenda Light, and Trees Marie broke in the new lighting and sound systems while owner Brian Forella gave a big heartfelt thanks to the crowd before surfing the crowd.
Summer also saw MASS welcoming Denton hard rockers The Wee-Beasties with a stacked bill full of ribald hardcore punk. Channeling G.G. Allin and performing nearly nude, Beasties vocalist Richard Haskins stalked the stage, screaming lyrics between chugging beers. The night started with the Orange County sounds of local punks Phorids along with Bullet Machine and Dallas’ Kriminal Pogo.
Just a few weeks ago, MASS hosted a packed crowd for the uncanny indie-folk of Denver Williams. The stage for his debut album release was adorned with a giant inflatable eyeball sporting a cowboy hat. The night was opened by Williams’ former cohort in Chillamundo, guitarist and singer-songwriter Neal McAlister. Austin’s Grandma Mousey slid their psyched-out guitar rock into the middle slot. — J.G.
Nationally, the spanking new Dickies Arena is still getting its legs under it and thus far seems to be catering to a very specific demographic with a calendar full of worship music, country artists we’ve never heard of, and boomer-centric acts like Eric Clapton and KISS. Though they don’t belong outside the previous description, the 14,000-seat venue played host to both Hall and Oates and ZZ Top within a week of each other earlier this fall. With his voice still on point, Daryl Hall can still make our dreams come true, and, even without the recently departed Dusty Hill, ZZ is still proving why they’re the best rock band to ever come out of the Lone Star State.
The most notable national act to grace our fair burg was definitely prog-rock pioneers King Crimson, who played Will Rogers Coliseum in late July. Playing a hits-focused set featuring staples like “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the band left a new luster of cool-kid cred on a city more normally associated with red dirt country than high art-rock. — P.H.