Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Column: Into Deep October 2005 (Pilotdrift, The Cavern, Allison V. Smith)

A commentary on the best of the Dallas music scene.

Essay question, Deep Ellum 101, first quarter final exam: What do a photographer, a club, and a band have in common? Answer: Everything good about the music scene in Dallas.

Venue: The Cavern, Renewed.
The Cavern isn’t a new bar on Lower Greenville, but it was slipping a little. Bands hated to play there because the stage was dinky, the sound system unreliable, and the floor miniscule. Listeners had to either find a booth and get blocked in there for the set or jam up against the bar in the long, narrow club. All that changed this past August. Revamped by Spune Productions, The Cavern is back as one of the “Best of Dallas.” A robust sound system was put in, the booths were ripped out, and the stage expanded. The Cavern Upstairs still has its cushy couches, perfect for relaxing between sets and for intimate conversation, when the DJs’ speakers aren’t working overtime.

Spune found the most knowledgeable audiophiles in Dallas to man the Upstairs turntables (or iPods): Monday belongs to DJ CeePee, Chris Penn, co-owner of Good Records; Tuesdays it’s DJ Hard to Pronounce AKA Sam Machkovech (that’s Muh-SKO-vitch, in case you’re wondering), the music editor of The Observer; Friday is Up! with DJ CJ MacPhie & DJ El Macho in up-and-coming bands Blackheart Society and Belafonte, respectively; and guest appearances by Josh Venable of KDGE’s Adventure Club radio show. The taste-setters of Dallas give you an insight into what they’d rather listen to on a weeknight.

Texasgigs.com has showcases at The Cavern, spotlighting some of Cindy Chaffin’s favs from around the Metroplex. But the best thing Spune does for the bar is book in the bands Dallas wants to see: Minus the Bear, Headphones, Criteria, The New Trust, Fruit Bats, Ghosty, Fishboy, John LaMonica, Tiebreaker, Chris Holt & The Egos, Fishing For Comets, The Gloomadeers, The Hundred Inevitables, Belaire, Loxsly, Student Film, Black Lights, Devendra Banhart, Peter Schmidt & His Gentlemen Scholars, Doug Burr, The Octopus Project, Saxon Shore, The Deathray Davies, Record Hop, Cordelane, Kissinger, The Happy Bullets, Salim Nourallah, BOOM, Bosque Brown, Unwed Sailor, The Lonelies, [DARYL], Snowdonnas, Cerulean, Saboteur, Levi Smith band, and that’s just some of last month.

It’s a shame The Cavern and the Granada Theater aren’t within walking distance of each other, as they would be less destinations, more of what Deep Ellum should be. Pilotdrift chose The Cavern for their CD release party, a surprising choice, considering the venue’s official capacity of 55. “Its size made for a unique and intimate experience for us and the audience,” says Ben Rice, Pilotdrift’s drummer and official email-answerer. “DJ CeePee had already established a good relationship with the club; he and the Good Records crew were able to work with people who were excited about having us, and who were very supportive.” That’s what it’s all about.

Band: Pilotdrift, Rediscovered.
Pilotdrift began 2004 as a small, arty band out of Texarkana with a small, arty following. On New Year’s Eve they played an instore at Good Records in Deep Ellum that attracted a full crowd, most of whom had heard good things about the band. They crammed all six band members and their myriad of instruments into the back of the store and gave the best performance they could without knocking over anything. It was good enough. Tim DeLaughter, formerly of Tripping Daisy, current lead of The Polyphonic Spree, and owner of Good Records declared them “Awesome.” Seven months later, he signed them as the first band on the Good Records label that isn’t a DeLaughter-lead endeavor. Pilotdrift first toured with The Spree, then toured with Eisley, and then headed into the studio. Their arty following isn’t quite so small any more. Loyal Pilotdrift fans packed the sweaty Cavern on a Monday night and waited for more than an hour for the band to play.

The release of Water Sphere, Pilotdrift’s second CD, and their first album on a label, required a party. It suffers only slightly from the loss of co-lead Micah Dorsey, who amicably split with the band after touring. “Bubblecraft” nearly begs polyester and a martini in hand, and is more reminiscent of a 1970’s made-for-TV movie theme song than rock of the Augties. But that’s what this band should be doing anyway: scoring the big licensing pay-off. Their money’s in feature films, TV shows (serious ones), and commercials for SUVs. Even I’d consider a Hummer if the drum solo from “So Long” played each time I opened the garage door. If the now out of print Iter Facere is already firmly imbedded in your record collection, Water Sphere may not add much, as it minimally reworks five songs from Pilotdrift’s self-produced effort. “Passenger Seat” could otherwise be known as “Picturesque” Revised, and “So Long,” “Caught in My Trap,” “Rings of Symbols,” and “Elephant Island” are essentially the same, only lacking Dorsey’s vocals. “Bubblecraft” is worth the purchase, if only for quirk, but “Comets,” a lovely, floaty instrumental, justifies it. “Jekyll and Hyde Suite,” a nearly ten minute opus, is a bit much to take through earphones, but is absolutely stunning live with its theatrical changes. Kelly Carr shines on stage, growing taller and maniacal as the music moves him. As good as the band is in the studio, the albums do not compare with their live performances. The Cavern is a great venue to watch the musical chairs Pilotdrift plays with their myriad of instruments, but the small space was not especially suited to their sweeping music. “Live at Nokia Arena” is really the tag that belongs after their band name. However, Carr took advantage of the intimacy of the audience and shoed the rest of his band out for a solo performance of “Auld Lang Syne/Swing Low Sweet Chariot” in tribute to the victims of the recent hurricanes in the Gulf.

When asked about the influence DeLaughter has on the fledgling band, drummer Ben Rice was quick to clarify, “We don’t want to be categorized or stereotyped as a 'shadow Polyphonic band' or as a 'kid brother band’ that is a part of his label. We don't want any of our originality or distinctiveness to be derived from comparisons to the Spree.” However, there are distinct benefits to being attached to a successful band. Rice concedes that “having that kind of support, and that kind of drive behind us, to put in place great things such as a solid booking agent, solid financial support, and respect for artistic control… I'd say that Tim has a great impact upon us, and to say that would be putting it lightly.”

It’s hard to mention Pilotdrift without gushing about their album art. Iter Facere’s cover, designed by Micah Dorsey, is the perfect accompaniment to the music. The new album’s graphics are a deeply colored, fictional depiction of the world of Water Sphere. Kelly Carr once said, “My big thing is artwork, I have to know what the music looks like.” Visual art that leads to a deeper understanding of the music is exceptional. Pilotdrift’s world is as much vision as sound. When choosing a photographer to document their image, they chose wisely when selecting Allison V. Smith.

Support: Allison V. Smith, Revered.
Allison V. Smith is a genius with a lens. Currently a staff photographer for the Dallas Morning News, she has photographed Slick 57, [DARYL], Sorta, Sparrows, Radiant*, and many more. Her website, www.allisonvsmith.com is an inspiring visual tour. Click on “Rockstars” for a view of nearly all of the Metroplex’s favorite bands and even Willie Nelson, Tom Hanks, and a melt-your-heart photo of John Travolta. Her client list reads like a subscription sale for popular national magazines. She is another of Dallas’ hidden gems. Smith specializes in simple, graphic imagery, saturated with color and rich in depth. One of my favorite images - though it’s hard to single just one out of the many incredible captures - is of Creede Williams standing in the middle of a downtown street. Smith captured the depth so precisely that she creates the illusion that Williams is floating in the city, but with his feet firmly planted on the ground. Smith’s photos are like the best poems; they are spectacular and reveal their secrets slowly.

Smith did a photo project for Good Record’s Fifth Birthday Bash in March and the results are on www.flickerland.com. If you are a MySpacer, you’ll recognize a few of profile shots of the people who were lucky enough to be caught by her camera. Her “Rock-and-Roll Photo Booth” at the Meow Bow Wow benefit at Sons of Hermann Hall (which raised funds for the animals caught in the Hurricane Katrina disaster) was a great success, and again, there were new MySpace profile shots all around. Smith is an integral supporter of the Dallas music scene, and a valuable asset to it as well.

Good Records, Pilotdrift, Allison V. Smith – three key names to know around Deep Ellum. All are players at the peak of their niche. In this column, every month, a band, a venue, and a support person will be profiled. Mostly, they will be integral to each other, a trio that moves music in the right direction. Do you know a band that has a good network? Tell me about them. You can find me online at www.myspace.com/katemackley. Think of this column as the Cliff Notes to music in Dallas.

Deep Details
• Good Records was established in 2000 as a storefront for the Good Records Recordings.
• Radio Good internet radio, also known as Daisy Radio, aired from 2000-2003.
• “Team Zissou” - Tim DeLaughter’s pet name for the interns at Good Records – is borrowed from The Life Aquatic.
• Aaron Burch of Grandaddy designed the t-shirts for Good Record’s Fifth Birthday Bash, and he’s the one musician allowed to smoke during an instore performance.
• DeLaughter made a card with the name “The Polyphonic Spree” for the store’s CD rack before he founded the band.
• DeLaughter’s only business advice to current Good Records manager, Rubberman? Always have flowers outside the front door.
• Allison V. Smith’s grandfather is Stanley Marcus and a large poster of him hangs in the Gypsy Tea Room band room.
• Former Pilotdrifter Micah Dorsey dated Chauntelle DuPree of Eisley during the bands’ tour.
• Iter Facere was the name of drummer Ben Rice’s online diary.
• Rice bought John David Blag’s drums before they knew each other. Later, after Blag joined the band, they realized it was the same set.
• Micah Dorsey was front and center in all of Pilotdrift’s press photos – and was photoshopped out after he left the band.

Originally published in Venues magagine