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Vanessa Peters plays Santa Clause in June – and plays LaGrange in Deep Ellum

The last week has been like Christmas for me.

Vanessa Peters‘ new album “The Burn The Truth The Lies” became available for download last Monday (June 18) for those of us who pledged to her Kickstarter campaign, late last year. I’m going to add—and I don’t mean this sarcastically, but as someone who has been looking forward to this for months—finally.

Fool that I am—I didn’t check my email Monday, didn’t get the link until Tuesday afternoon. Of course, I promptly downloaded the album, imported it into my iTunes, and listened to it three times through, twice in order, once on “shuffle”. And several time since then.

Once again—it’s well worth the wait.

She’s previewed a few of the songs for those of us smart enough to go to her shows, and another one was made available several weeks ago for us Kickstarter donors, but the rest of the 11-song album is all new. I gotta say, it’s brilliant.

And then, as I was running around Saturday, trying to get ready to go have dinner with friends, there was a knock on my door. The mailman was bringing me a Box o’ Joy, which included my physical schwag from the Kickstarter pledge: my signed physical copy of the CD, 2 really cool new T-shirts, a black Moleskine journal (with the Italian sales wrap label on it—how cool is that?) with the lyrics and a little story behind one of my favorite songs from her last album handwritten inside.

Anyway, now I have the physical CD, and can listen in my car. And have. More or less nonstop.

Yesterday, still more goodies—an email with a link to download of an EP containing some acoustic mixes to several songs from the album, as well as one song which didn’t make the album. Downloaded, imported, and listening to. As I type.

OK, so enough about my “Christmas in June” week—here’s the really important part:

Vanessa is doing an album pre-release show on Thursday, June 28th at LaGrange. This will be a rare, rare “full band” show (her first in Texas in 3 years, I think she said). The show includes most of the band who actually performed on the album: John Dufilho (Polyphonic Spree and Deathray Davies) on drums, Jason Garner (Apples in Stereo and Deathray Davies) on drums and bass, Rip Rowan (frequent quiet collaborator with Salim Nourallah) on keys, and Andy Lester (The Blurries) on guitar. (San Antonio’s Joe Reyes played guitar on the album, and has done several shows with Vanessa in the past few years, as well as shows and recording with Salim—in addition to his solo work, and his band, Buttercup.)

Thursday’s show is set for 9 pm (doors at 8). Denton’s Birds of Night and Dallas’ Daniel Hart are also playing, and I’m not really sure who’s playin’ first—so be on time! For. Once. In your. Life.

And the whole thing is only $5.00. That’d be a bargain at 4X the price.

Catch this one—she’s running off to tour Europe for a couple months soon after, and won’t be back on our side of the pond until October-ish, when I’m guessing she will make the rounds of Texas and nearby (and not-so-nearby) states, including—I’d guess—several shows within 100 miles of Dallas.

But really, who would want to wait that long?

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My interest in the Dallas music scene began in–of all places–Austin

So, I was flying back from visiting my parents in Raleigh, NC. Pretty sure it was just after Christmas 2004. I’d flown Southwest Airlines, so of course there was the obligatory stop Somewhere Else (thanks to the soon-to-be-dead-but-not-soon-enough Wright Amendment) to get back to Love Field.

This trip, Somewhere Else was Austin. My layover was somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple hours, so I wandered over to find a beer. Turned out they played live music in the terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International, so I took my bottle over to a table by the stage and sat down to hear the young lady who was playing.

Well, I caught about the last song and a half of her set. Certainly long enough to tell she had a pretty voice, and sang about subjects I could identify with. So, as she packed up her guitar, I walked over and told her so. She said she was actually from Dallas (but spent about half her time in Italy) and played around Dallas when she was home. I put my email addy on her mailing list and bought one of her CDs.

Her name was Vanessa Peters and I started getting her email announcements pretty quickly, telling me of shows in Dallas and all of Texas. And Europe. (Yeah, I was confused by that, but seemed to recall her mentioning spending some of her time overseas, when we talked.)

And I kept reading the emails, but not going to the Dallas-area shows. The timing either didn’t work for me, or it did and I planned to go and then just wimped out, at the last minute.

Finally, a little more than a year later, I made it to a show. It was at this really cool coffee house in the basement of what used to be the old Sears Catalog Merchandise Center, south of Downtown. Now the building was lofts and shops (called South Side on Lamar). The coffee house in the basement is now called Opening Bell (at the time it was Standard and Pours), and was neither your typical music venue, nor your typical coffee shop.

Anyway, I was hooked. Since then, I have caught nearly every show Vanessa has played within 50 miles of Dallas–many but not all at Opening Bell–and even one in Raleigh. I just flat out love her music.

More than just Vanessa’s music, however–the other acts she has played with have opened me up to a world of other artists, including (but not nearly limited to) Dallas’ Salim Nourallah and Camille Cortinas, MC Hansen from Denmark, Austin’s Aimee Bobruk, San Antonio’s Joe Reyes, and Swedish/Canadian gem Sarah MacDougall.

I keep going back. As long as Vanessa Peters keeps singing, I’ll keep listening.

…And even I will admit: One Good Thing came out of the Wright Amendment.

Vanessa Peters at Opening Bell

Got an email earlier today from Vanessa Peters noting that she is opening for Houston songwriter Matt Harlan and Danish band The Sentimentals tomorrow night, at Opening Bell Coffee. Friday night, March 2, at 8 pm.

Kind of knew about it because MC Hansen–who is a member of The Sentimentals and has played with Vanessa before and is amazing in his own right–mentioned it on Facebook a couple weeks ago. Been planning to go all along, but since I have finally gotten this little project up and running, I thought I’d mention it.

I’ll definitely mention it afterwards.

Dan Dyer opened for McMurtry last week

OK, so I have taken some time to get around to noting this, but Dan Dyer opened for James McMurtry last Friday at the Kessler.

I didn’t know him, or his music. I went for McMurtry. Decided not to try and look him up or listen to any of his music ahead of time–so many times, I have found an absolutely stellar artist by hearing them open for someone else. (Dyer was the reason I ran into a friend and a friend of hers at this show–they were there to see Dyer. Didn’t even know who James McMurtry was.)

Anyway–Dyer was great! Just him and a guitar and a keyboard and a mic and a pedal of some kind and a big-ass voice. I mention the pedal specifically because, at one point (no, I don’t know the song), he started a kind of driving line on his guitar. Once he established it, he tipped the guitar up, obviously taking his hands off the strings (with kind of a theatrical shrug)–and the guitar kept going as he set the instrument aside and turned to the keyboard. I have (that I know of) only seen that kind of well-controlled use of a loop pedal once before. It was amazing then, and it was definitely amazing Friday night.

I would gladly pay to hear just Dyer perform.

James McMurtry at the Kessler

I have spent an eternity traveling US Highway 69 through Oklahoma.

To be clear: even once driving that 233-mile road from the Red River until you pick up Interstate 44 at Big Cabin qualifies as “too much time”. Doing the round trip entitles you to use the phrase “my time in Hell” in conversation. Do the round trip at least once annually, as I did with my family from my 10th through 18th years (often twice a year), and then voluntarily at least 10 times as an adult–you come to truly understand the words “Hell” and “eternity”. Viscerally.

And then you discover the James McMurtry song “Choctaw Bingo”.

The song becomes the travelogue of your sprint up this highway (and more than just “about the north Texas-southern Oklahoma crystal methamphetamine industry” as McMurtry announces on his album Live in Aught-Three). Get to know the song, and you find yourself checking off landmarks as you pass through dusty one-stoplight towns. Tushka–check. McAlister–check. Lake Eufaula–check. Big Cabin–check. Even beyond (as we always did when I was a child) onto Interstate 44 under the McDonald’s bridge at Vinita–check.

Even though the song’s lyrics are a little dated by now (the gaming facility the song is named for has since been replaced by the Choctaw Casino–which does still host Bingo on the first weekend of each month) it is still the biggest crowd-pleaser McMurtry plays. And it should be. It’s just plain damn raunchy fun.

During Friday night’s show at the Kessler Theater, he invited the crowd to “dance if ya like” before the song, and in the middle invited some of the more vigorous of the ladies to join the band on the stage. One distracted him so much by rubbin’ on him while he played, he noted that “It’s been years since I forgot the words at this point in the song.”

“Choctaw” came fairly early in the show, and he managed to play several favorites from Aught-Three: “Red Dress” (which he opened with), “Fraulein O.”, “Levelland”, and “Too Long in the Wasteland”. He did a solo acoustic version of “Ruby and Carlos” and the full band gave us “Bayou Tortue”, “Hurricane Party”, You’d a’ Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)”, “Childish Things”, “Restless”, and “Freeway View”, all from his more recent Live in Europe album.

For some of his early between-song tuning, he just tuned quietly, but as the show got on and he could tell the crowd was into it, he popped in funny comments or political notes. Before “We Can’t Make It Here”, McMurtry noted that they stopped playing the song for awhile, but resumed because it was still relevant. As he said, “Guess it sucks for everyone but us.”

While preparing to play the rocker “Lobo Town”, he noted that all the “rural Americans” he knew growing up were Kiss fans, and so they were about to play “country music for Kiss fans.” He also quipped that there were 2 things common to the South that “Nashville doesn’t write songs about: feral hogs and methamphetamines.”

He ended the main show with “Too Long in the Wasteland”, but was called back to the stage by the first encore I’ve seen an audience actually earn in years. He treated us to a solo acoustic performance of “Lights of Cheyenne”. Probably my favorite of his songs.

All in all, a great show.

And I didn’t even have to suffer through Oklahoma for it.