Last Friday’s Gorilla vs Bear III show at the Granada was a welcome respite, considering that the trend for major North Texas music events hasn’t exactly been progressing toward untried or bubbling talent, but rather the expected, the conventional, or worse. This is especially true when the future of 35 Denton, to cite one specific example, seems to be in limbo. There seem to be fewer and fewer options for wheels-off booking choices that can find just the right mix of heavy hitting with the little known. Even when this show—and it is just a big, single, show marketed as a festival—relies on the names of Danny Brown or the Chromatics, it’s still as much about acts that simply aren’t well-known in Dallas, or in many cases, have never played here before. How do I know? Because the bands themselves said so.
“It’s our first show in Dallas,” said Haerts’ singer, Nini Fabi, during a set that at times slowed to such a sparkling crawl that it approached sounding like a synth-adorned Lucinda Williams. With the exception of Danny Brown or even Booty Fade, Haerts probably had the closest thing any of these artists could count as a hit, and there was an obvious recognition when they played “Wings.”
Empress Of was the first non-local, actual “band” to perform, following an opening by Dallas’ Booty Fade, and the act’s principal member Lorely Rodriguez basically sounded the sentiment that would be echoed by others. “I’ve never really played Dallas,” Lorelei said to expected applause, almost seeming unsure if that were true. “So I’m really happy to be here.” She sheepishly continued with another claim. “I think this is my first show I’ve ever played with a rapper.”
Empress Of’s set was not as heavily reliant on a sustained beat, the structures shifted without warning and kept things intriguing, whereas a lot of groups lean on the robotic throb as much as possible. By the time Blue Hawaii took the stage, it was a completely different feeling altogether, one of being in a dark, hazy dance club far past last call. There was no subtlety, no balladry, and I respected them for the lack of preciousness.
As for that aforementioned rapper, when Danny Brown finally went on, it felt like every person in the audience knew every word. I have seldom seen such a successful showcase of the old showbiz trick of pointing the mic at the audience when you don’t feel like finishing the verse. And Danny Brown’s cadence is not easy, it’s one of the most meticulously wordy in rap, as opposed to the tired couplets that have been relied upon for the past five years by a lot of radio rappers, which Danny Brown is not.
I hope this event never goes away, as it’s one of the only nights of the year where it seems like someone here actually gets it, and is not just cynically pandering to the perceived tastes of the day, or trying to hop on someone else’s bandwagon. Gorilla vs Bear has once again proven to be the bandwagon, yet it’s our bandwagon, and it’s one of the only instances we can get New York, Paris, or Tokyo to follow our lead. You want world class? The value of that is simply incalculable.
All photos by Andi Harman