How often do you travel up to Denton for a show? Consider this a rhetorical question – there’s no way for you to respond anyway – but for me, having lived in DFW for over five years, it wasn’t until this week that I had even looked to our lone star’s second music capital for a concert. “In Texas there’s two main places to play if you’re an independent band: Austin and Denton. Denton because 75% of the clientele that go to see shows, in the DFW area, are from Denton” is what Josh T. Pearson, frontman of cult shoegaze act Lift to Experience, has to say about the city’s reputation, and it begs an interesting question: for the young concert-goer, who has only explored Deep Ellum’s multi-sized venues and those nearby, what in the way of live music does Denton have to offer?
I arrived at Andy’s Bar free of near-wrecks and U-turns. The drive over being a straight shot across 380 and its many, many fields before entering Denton’s downtown, which in my case was a turn onto Oak St. and another turn into a managed dry cleaner’s lot (for the low price of $10, you, too, can be squeezed next to a generator a few blocks away from your destination!) The venue was split into two floors, the lower a bar and the upper a music hall, and inside around fifty people of varying ages and fashion-senses stood chatting, in wait for a lineup consisting of punk / art rock bands Darling Farm, Stuck, and Pile. As I would soon find out, these bands, too, varied in age and fashion-sense.
Darling Farm entered the stage in four decades of fashion, all of which preceded them: their guitarist was dressed in 70’s sitcom attire, their bassist in 80’s sitcom attire, their lead in 90’s sitcom attire, and at last their drummer embraced the new millennium. They stood out even more so thanks to the setting, a dark, wrinkled curtain serving as a background for these twenty-something Denton natives, who confidently and professionally took their places on a trapezoid of gray carpet. After a brief soundcheck and an even more brief introduction, the group began their set.
Before the first song concluded I had already formed an understanding for why the independent venue, as an environment, holds such an important role in the music ecosystem. I had sampled some of Darling Farm’s music earlier that afternoon, and had been relatively unimpressed then, but at Andy’s Bar their music confronted me in such a different, massive way, as their breakdowns took on the character and scale of thunderstorms. Being new and independent, Darling Farm didn’t have the means to capture something like this in a studio, but on stage they could make the exact, unavoidable first impression that they wanted to, and so they did. They closed their set with an incredible song about coming out, said to be on their next record, and left us in wonder as things got set up for the next band.
Entering in respectably casual clothes, Stuck immediately and without introduction launched into their set. A dystopian current of art rock and egg punk (apparently a new subgenre of punk, characterized by lo-fi production and eccentric vocals) buzzed through the wires and into the amps – their speakers beating like black hearts – as overhead the lighting dimmed from vibrant cyan to the color of television static. I had sampled them earlier as well, mainly their new album Freak Frequency, and as with Darling Farm their live sound grabbed my attention much faster than their studio work.
Being a few years older than the previous band, and with themes of capitalist rot rusting their lyrics, Stuck set a trend of increasing maturity for the night. The vocals, muffled and shouted as though through a megaphone, held the cadence of a strike organizer, as frontman Greg Obis ignited the hearts and ears of his proletariat brethren. The crowd fell completely under Stuck’s spell, and at the set’s conclusion everyone either cheered instantly or rushed to grab a setlist. The room was electric, and all that remained afterwards was for the night’s headliner to come in and make use of this energy.
If I had it my way the next 10,000 words would be about Pile: how their music captures, via its unique structure, an uncanny anxiety which no other rock band has replicated, and how they remain massively underrated despite having been venerated for over a decade by their fandom. After all, how many other bands have concept EPs dedicated to them, in which the main character attends one of their shows and starts sobbing? Watching Pile lug their equipment on stage and conduct a long soundcheck, I was certain that everyone else in the audience was as excited to see them play as I was.
Their set consisted majorly of songs from their recent album, All Fiction, an atmospheric departure from their traditional (but nonstandard) punk rock sound. With the full outfit of frontman Rick Maguire, drummer Kris Kuss, bassist Matt Connery, and guitarist Matt Becker on stage, the band transformed these songs from the meditative, spiritually ambient pieces that they were on the album into sheer soundscapes, enough to move even those who found the studio versions boring. A flood of distortion at the end of “It Comes Closer,” the opening song, almost immediately swept us off our feet, and from there we struggled to hold on as “Loops” and later “Forgetting” shook Andy’s chestnut wood floor, Kuss’s drumbeats sweeping through it and pulsing beneath us like waves.
The lighting, a rusted orange, continued the trend of increasing age to its natural conclusion; the set was tinged with death, or more broadly with the end of things. As I was taking notes during the show, writing that it felt like a post-rapture get together, I heard Rick confirm the thought: “And it’s safe to hide now; Only a handful of giants watching you; Now heaven’s a place where no one else is.” While their stage energy was fairly jovial, especially later in the set when they surprised everyone with some of their older material, the reality of the situation remained unignorable – it is 2023, the world is falling apart and so are we, and here we are tonight, at Andy’s Bar.
While there is no shortage of concerts to see in Deep Ellum, in venues of varying sizes, it’s only in Denton that I’ve had a musical experience so intimate. In a small bar thirty miles northwest of Dallas, surrounded by people that both love independent music and support the ecosystem that Denton’s scene enables, anyone who is a fan of underground music can find a place for themselves, wherein they can discover awesome, unheard-of bands and come to terms with the end of the world. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m sure I’ll be back up there soon.