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The Casket Girls in live performance at Dan's Silver Leaf, August 2014. Credit: Andi Harman.

Casket Girls Unfazed by Quiet Denton Crowd in Ambitious Performance

It’s a sleepy Tuesday at Dan’s SilverLeaf in Denton and it’s one of those nights where you wonder who or what in the music industry food chain could try to take a bigger bite, if only so this show would be better attended. It’s not that the crowd was completely nonexistent; there were people there, a small group who felt palpably lucky. By the time a headlining act called the Casket Girls leave the stage, they have personally given every member of the audience a hug. Actual hugs, where the person pauses and lingers in that moment for a tiny warm eternity.

A local band called Nite opened the show and their reenactment of the 1980s is eerily accurate. I know, since I’m just old enough to remember all the pretty men in suit jackets the band is aping. The New Wave era had snatched rock and roll’s denim and leather machoness, trading it in for a pressed and starched coyness. The result was that it was nearly impossible to tell who was a cocaine-addict stockbroker and who was a cocaine-addict musician in subways around the world for about 5 years. What a time. Nite did the late epoch a service; immortalizing the older brother who didn’t reject your parents music thirty years ago, when you weren’t even a thought. The band is a welcome and charming addition to any bill lately.

Dreamend took the stage with the most morose set of the night. They are one of the many projects of Ryan Graveface, whose namesake label is the home of 2/3 of the bands playing this evening. He is masked with a hidden mic, and although he looks strange, this is fairly traditional sad and slow rock music, interspersed with explosively loud, effects-heavy disturbances.

The bass, drums, and treble are all meant to reside on separate continents, and the three band members stand nearly as far apart onstage. Loud and distorted passages give way to ringing interludes of gently picked open chords, before returning overjoyed to the towering heights of volume.

When the Casket Girls take the stage they are startlingly in synch with one another. Dreamend is now a backing band. The pained looks of despair are still there, but they are cast in a new light as perfectly coordinated dance moves steal the stage before them. “Thanks guys, nice to be in your town,” says band member Phaedra Greene. I heard from a friend that the Austin show the night prior was much better-attended which seems a shame.

No matter how much the Casket Girls dare to thwart the emotional weight of their own music, it never happens. There is no denying it; they are extremely humorous. Some of the Dan’s regulars seem to cock their hide to the side like a puppy’s first experience with a roomba.

What is mostly a Graveface Records showcase was an almost unfair demonstration of how much the label understands great pop music. The silliness blended with genuine tenderness; the beat balanced with noise; the equal weight of a scowl or a smile, all of the classic devices were expertly deployed by a group of individuals who knew how to make their art seem very fun and alive. The drummer is playing so hard that he has to remove his shirt at one point. Attendance may be light, but the band refuses to dilute their formula.

Hearing their newest record, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale, I can not shake the imagery from the performance. I feel like I can see every waving, pleading gesture. Perhaps a band can always detect a critic. Fittingly, I was the only person in the crowd who didn’t get a hug, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

All photos by Andi Harman.