I'm not sure what I thought Strategies of Beauty would be other than an above average local rock show, but I suppose that I expected it to serve as a microcosmic snapshot of local music, a chance to take the pulse of musicians, scenesters, and anyone else that gives two shits in order to see where this area is musically, and where it might be headed in the near future. Some might respond that this is an overly dramatic, unrealistic and misguided calculation considering that many of the bands that played Strategies have gone more or less unnoticed by 90% of Dallas' local music scene participants, and an even smaller percentage of DFW residents that might consider going to a local show every now and again. But aside from the (only half joking) response that if the majority of Dallas music fans don't dig it then it must be good, I would suggest that the Strategies line up was comprised of a larger percentage of interesting DFW bands than any other show I can think of in recent memory, and despite the relative lack of attention that most of these bands have received thus far from local fans and media, several of them are part of a short list of local groups that actually have a chance to make an impact outside of the area at some point in time.
I think people often forget that while some of the more popular bands in Dallas right now (The Valentines, Deathray Davies, Belafonte, Chemistry Set, etc.) might have sounds that are more commercially viable than the Strategies gang, their chances of going very far outside of being cool on lower Greenville probably aren't very good. Why? Well, its not so much that they're just completely terrible (which several of them are), but more because there are similar bands with very similar sounds in pretty much every large to mid sized city in the United States, and they're all fighting for that one Volkswagen commercial, or that one opening slot on the next Death Cab tour. And while the Dallas version of a watered down Strokes might not be much worse (and could be much better) than the Kansas City or Sacramento versions, it just seems that the competition to reach the markets they are aiming for is much tighter than that for the market that say, Notes from Undergound, Shiny Around the Edges or Eat Avery's Bones might be able to interest. In short, many of the Strategies groups ( and a handful of other local acts) seem to offer something relatively unique, something that might actually catch a Matador rep off guard at SXSW next year. I guess that is why I thought Strategies was sort of a big deal.
And while it might not have been one of the 101 WILDEST parties of the summer in the United States (unless this is an off year for "wild"), the festival was very well attended for a ten hour all local show in a really hot bar (Rubber Gloves: turn on the damn air conditioning!), and most of the acts that the WSJR gang saw were quite solid if not earth shattering, while a couple were extremely captivating.
The show marked the first time I had ever seen Shiny Around the Edges live, and it was really quite impressive. Although it seemed that they were unable to capture some of the doom and gloom ambience of their recorded material (which I'm not even sure is possible in a rock club), they were quite effective in creating tension on stage, building a thin wall of separation between performer and audience that was intense but vaguely welcoming in that it exposed their fragile yet confident personas as they played sparse, minimal songs that built up slowly and broke down quickly. As much as I liked their music (along with the backing pedal steel by Adub), which seems to exist somewhere one the warmer side of Portishead, Broadcast, Palace Brothers and Leonard Cohen, I enjoyed their vocal delivery and subtle stage presence just as much, as it seemed a bit more artistic and thoughtful than most of the Carlos Ds and Karen Os that have come and gone over the past five years, rendering neo post-punk swagger about as boring and predictable as a garage rock yelp. Overall, they are one of the more exciting bands in the area, and their live performance just added to that notion.
Stumptone followed with a capable and at times exhilarating set of shoegaze influenced neopsyche and a slide show background that set a similar mood. How the names Catherine Wheel and Janes Addiction have not been mentioned in a Stumptone review (to my knowledge at least) is a bit of a mystery since they seem to be heavily influenced by both bands, but they don't sound too much like either one to start calling bullshit on anyone. Instead, they really seem to have a good grasp on the shoegaze wall of noise thing, and although the Rubber Gloves mix made it a little difficult to distinguish what they were doing at times, it was clear that they have the capacity to mold and control tuneful noise in a pop context, which to me indicates that they could very well end up being quite successful on a large scale if they can continue to refine and improve on their approach.
The set that seemed the most problematic of the ones we saw came from Fra Pandolf, but it wasn't because the band doesn't have its shit together. The first thing I noticed about them was that their lead singer (Is it Ed? I can't remember) had an exceptionally strong and interesting voice, particularly for a smaller local act. The second thing I noticed was that they didn't emphasize this distinguishing characteristic nearly enough. Maybe it was the fact that the vocals were a bit too low in the mix, but it just seems like their songs would benefit in terms of immediacy and effectiveness if the focus was shifted more towards a structure that centered more around the vocals. Another problem that we noticed right away were the drums: they were simply too busy to accompany what the band seemed to be trying to do otherwise. The drumming was quite good from a technical standpoint, but that was part of the problem: it was much too slick, tight and roll happy for a band that seems to be searching for a little more space in their aggressive guitar layering and impressive starts and stops, which sort of reminded us of Refused with a dose of Chapterhouse and Sunny Day Real Estate. The good news is that these kinds of problems are fixable because the band is obviously more than capable of changing it up and doing less or more where necessary, although the set we saw certainly left something to be desired.
For us, the clear highlight of the night was the closing free jazz/noise explosion set of Notes From Underground, which in about 25 minutes became one of my favorite local live bands, even though I'm not the kind of person that gets easily excited by either noise or free jazz in a live setting. Of course, telling some people that they should totally go check out this noise band with a sax is like telling people that they should go check out getting some dental work done, but I would venture to say that just about anyone with a brain and even the slightest sense of adventure would have been moved by Notes' performance at Rubber Gloves on Saturday. Their free form compositions combined many of the best elements of the other bands that we saw and often took them to new heights. No, it wasn't pop, and you really couldn't tap your feet to it, but I somehow found myself swaying back and forth a bit to songs that didn't really have any kind of constant rhythm, and I was continually impressed with the way they were able to reach ear bleeding levels of noise while still maintaining some kind of melodic element, proving that yes, it can be done. It was one of those rare instances where noise sounded emotional, purposeful, and downright easy to like. And although you can't tell from the picture of them below, they played in an almost completely dark room with a lone white light set against a white sheet in the background, allowing only a slight glimpse at the outlines of the band members as they played. Not only did this add to the effectiveness of their set, but it reminded the audience of the purely abstract nature of their expression, basically leaving well enough alone. I'm sure they're great looking dudes and everything, but I'm glad that all I could do was listen.
I don't know if I was able to pick up on much context surrounding the festival (considering that outside forces caused us to miss half of it), but if local music fans are indeed waiting around for something to happen, I think its safe to say that Strategies at least provided us with something to listen to in the meantime, and who knows: with a little luck, some of these bands could have bright futures in DFW and possibly beyond.