The man, clad in a trenchcoat and torn pants, made his way down front.
Kaela Sinclair stepped into the spotlight, the music began, and he started swaying — his hands in the air, lost in a reverie known only to him.
It wasn’t long before he was dancing with increasing intensity, as a slowly filling room drew closer to Sinclair’s atmospheric songs.
35 Denton, in all its off-kilter glory, was back.
Despite gloomy weather, with intermittent rain all evening, the mood was light.
There was a sense of rejuvenation in the air, a feeling of recalibration after the rain-soaked chaos of the 2013 35 Denton.
The addition of several new venues to the schedule — the Greater Denton Arts Council building, as well as Service Industry, LSA Burger Co. and Harvest House — added to the air of discovery surrounding the showcases, which, in my experience, more or less started on time and weren’t plagued by any technical difficulties. The crowds weren’t especially oppressive, particularly early on, but even as the night progressed, there was still ample elbow room in most venues, a welcome change of pace from previous, one-in and one-out years.
Even checking in and acquiring the bright yellow wristband was painless, which is often a good sign that things will go as smoothly as can be expected at a multi-venue festival.
I started my night with Sinclair, who pulled from her terrific debut, Sun & Mirror, and captivated the audience with her dense, luminous songs — Original Sin swelled until it seemed to bump up against the GDAC’s high ceiling — before making my way back down Hickory, towards a performance that was nearly a perfect inverse of Sinclair’s.
I’ve heard Juicy the Emissary’s name bandied about for a while, but have never caught him live before. Down in the claustrophobic basement of J&J’s Pizza (still one of my favorite places to see music in North Texas), the self-described “aural architect” entertained the woefully small audience as if we’d all gathered for an impromptu dinner party. I stood, entranced by the samples and beats emanating from his computer, watching as his fingers punched up one element and dialed down another. It was hypnotic — like being placed inside a cocoon of sound — and breaking away was more difficult than I anticipated.
My next planned stop had been to catch Brave Young Lion across the square at LSA Burger Co., but the staff seemed baffled by my asking about 35 Denton (I was redirected to the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the alley behind the building — twice).
Reluctantly, I abandoned those efforts and headed to Dan’s Silverleaf, arriving in time to catch the tail end of the Kickstand Band’s outdoor set. The Detroit power-pop duo made me wish I’d seen more of what they had to offer.
Inside at Dan’s, Sealion was setting up, and within seconds of drummer Alex Poulos’ downbeat (I could’ve seriously watched him play drums all night long — the liquid, relentless way he rides the cymbals sets him apart from most DFW timekeepers), the Dallas art-punk foursome put a big stupid grin on my face. I was a fan of their 2014 album, Heavy Fizz, and every ounce of promise heard on record is fulfilled on stage. Sealion is attracting an ever larger and more passionate fan base, and for good reason — they are the real deal.
Then it was back to GDAC for a quick hit of Jessie Frye’s moody rock songs, performed with the sort of no-nonsense theatricality she’s justly earned a reputation for. The Denton singer-songwriter brings a coiled intensity to the stage, goosing her already formidable material with an extra burst of energy, flinging her hair and all but climbing into the audience and throttling it.
That in-your-face mentality held firm as I moved to the Abbey Underground, where the unknown-to-me Austin group Monk Parker was finishing up its performance, capping a mesmerizing, country noir tune with an extended instrumental that made dramatic use of — no jokes — two trombones. It was a wonderfully disorienting racket to behold, the cowboy hats and guitar squall clashing with the band geek flourish. (And, my second foot-of-the-stage dancer sighting of the evening.)
My night ended, fittingly, with Denton’s Doug Burr, who is gearing up to release, Pale White Dove, his first studio album in five years. Burr’s catalog to date has largely been one of elegant craftsmanship, restraint and introspection, a thinking man’s musician following his muse where it leads him.
Within moments of stepping onstage Friday, a full band at his back, any notion of Burr as any kind of retiring troubadour had been thoroughly reshaped. Leading off with his roaring new single, White Light, Black Light, it was clear Burr wants to cut loose a little. And he pulls it off — it’s kind of thrilling to see someone so respected in the North Texas music community take a leap into the unknown, knowing his talent is enough to bridge the gap between what’s come before and what lies ahead.
In that respect, watching Burr gleefully reshape people’s perceptions of him and his music felt like a perfect metaphor for 35 Denton itself: the beloved past as possible prologue for the unknown and exciting future.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713