My friend Laura is in town visiting from Dallas and we decided to go see some live music last night. There were a handful of choices, but I saw the write-up on singer/songwriter Dan Dyer in the Chronicle and it seemed like the best choice.
The two bands that opened, Bo Jones and The Watermarks, were really odd choices for openers considering Dyer’s brand of music, but it made for an interesting show.
I don’t know anything about Bo Jones except that they recorded at Sugar Hill Studios and used an engineer who is a friend of mine to do their tracks. I Googled them before the show and that was really all I found.
They were an odd trio of piano, drums and guitar – no bass, which immediately made me suspicious. They all had skill and the songs had interesting hooks, but it was all pretty self-indulgent. Songs that should last 3 minutes went on for 7 and just didn’t make much sense in context.
The drummer was phenomenal, howevever, and when I stopped him to tell him that later, he appeared to me to be about 19 years old making it all the more impressive.
Houston Press Awards best indie band nominee The Watermarks came up next. They are a retro 80’s band in the vein of pretty much any synth-rock band you can remember from that era. This band had no drummer and preferred backing sequences, which I’m not a fan of to begin with, but especially not live.
To me, the gold standard for doing rock mixed with synths and drum machines in the modern era (assuming you aren’t an industrial band, which they were not) is Garbage. They not only have the technology and the hooks of a typical synth-pop band, but they rock like crazy with live drums and a big overall sound.
The Watermarks just never got going. The drum samples were weak and didn’t have the drive they needed for the pounding guitars. The keyboard samples seemed only ancillary to the mix and it was really the loud twin guitars that drove the music. The band would greatly benefit from live drums.
After a quick set change, Dyer was up. Dyer reminds me, vocally, of Gavin Degraw with that southern drawl and bluesy growl. His music is probably closer to John Mayer with clever pop hooks and extremely tight arrangements.
Dyer was signed to Lenny Kravitz’ Roxie Records but never got off the ground. Though he does seem to be somewhat of a lost voice in the range of the Jason Mraz’s, Mayers, Duncan Sheik’s and Degraw’s of the world, his sound has the requisite folksy sensibility and catchy hooks to place him amongst his peers if he had the right backing and production.
His band was terrific and extremely tight. Houston bands should pay attention because this is what a well-rehearsed and well organized band sounds like. They weren’t overly musical but they held down arrangements with metronomic precision and kept Dyer right in lock step with his compositions.
Things unravelled slightly when the band attempted to stretch out, going on for long periods of time with vocal solos by Dyer who seemed to be channelling his inner Billy Holliday. In a setting that thrives on jam-packed 3-minute arrangements, that felt uncomfortable and out of place – even a little forced as if they felt the need to show that they had chops. But, overall, they had good energy and blended nice pop hooks with good arrangements and sturdy musicianship.
Maybe just lay off the jam session next time.