Featured Music: Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Though The Theater Fire guys have felt like outcasts in their own backyard, they’re warming up to their hometown, thanks to some recent grassroots art movements here.
The Theater Fire
Fri, May 19, in Dallas at Good Records (617 N Good Latimer Expy, Dallas, 214-752-4663) and The Cavern (1914 Greenville Av, 214-828-1914). Fri, May 26, at the Metrognome Collective, 1518 E Lancaster Av, FW. 817-810-9777.
Dark Side of the Tune

Three years in the making, The Theater Fire’s new disc signals a novel though no less Theater Fire-ish direction for Fort Worth’s reigning Americana-gothic band.


The way in which a highly trained painter uses his non-dominant hand to achieve raw imagery is similar to The Theater Fire’s approach to musicmaking. All of the musicians in the Fort Worth septet are proficient, but, in the context of the band, none of them specializes in any one instrument. The suggestion of technical naïveté lends The Theater Fire’s unique, haunting brand of Americana gothic the perfect touch of truthfulness. For spooky songs about life in the key of death, the complete absence of artifice is really the only plan of attack that makes any artistic sense.

When you have so many musicians in your band, then you don’t feel compelled to rush through writing, performing, and recording new music — every time you release a record, it’s a momentous occasion. Everybody Has a Dark Side, The Theater Fire’s new full-length album and sophomore effort (on Dallas-based Undeniable Records), has been in development for the past three years. While the disc is signature Theater Fire, it also represents a progression of sorts — whereas Donald Feagin wrote all of the songs on the band’s eponymous debut, bandmate Curtis Heath contributes a fair share of material here.

Recorded in Feagin’s house, the album does something funny for an admittedly arty collection of songs — it flows from beginning to end. Everybody starts off at a nice, leisurely pace and finishes at a good clip.

The record also threatens to blaspheme indie purity by relying semi-frequently on “hooks,” to use Heath’s word. They’re not obvious and over-cooked like a lot of stuff on this week’s hit parade, but, unlike a majority of the debut’s choruses, Everybody’s juicy portions stay with you long after the music stops. For the record: Feagin, Heath, and the rest of the band have no designs on becoming Rolling Stone coverboys.

They also don’t want to go anywhere near the term “jam band,” even though some of the songs on Everybody have existed for years as stage material before finally being committed to polycarbonate.

The rest of the band contributes its two creative cents during rehearsals, where each musician is encouraged to speak his mind. Feagin said there’s so much give-and-take among him and his fellow Theater Fire-brands that the process can’t be anything but “ego-less.” The Theater Fire is thus a band in the best sense of the term: Everybody helps shape the songs.

Arty, progressive, introspective — doesn’t sound like something from Cowtown. And until recently, Feagin and company felt more comfortable in hip Denton than in their own backyard. To them, Fort Worth was a “sticky” place to play, meaning that, for whatever reason, they couldn’t find a venue that suited them. (They occasionally played to crowds in the single digits.) With the recent opening of the multi-disciplinary space that belongs to the Metrognome Collective, a relatively informal art-awareness organization, Feagin thinks his band has finally found a home here. Even though Theater Fire multi-instrumentalist James Talambas runs sound at Metrognome, the equipment isn’t the best, the décor isn’t the coolest, and the clientele isn’t the most au courant. Yet the space and what it represents — essentially, art for art’s sake — is right up The Theater Fire’s alley. “We’re compelled to make music,” Heath said. “You do it because that’s the reason you exist.”

Along with a popular Eastside speakeasy and the Southside’s 1919 Hemphill, Metrognome exists not for profit but primarily to sustain personal expression — artistically, dramatically, and musically.

Heath thinks there’s a significant change under way in town. “Fort Worth is opening to more than loud, drinking music,” he said.

Feagin and drummer Nick Prendergast agree. Not only are more people showing up for Theater Fire gigs, Prendergast said, but “they’re actually listening to the music” — a huge change. “The glam must be disappearing,” he said. “There seems to be less and less guitar rock.”

One of The Theater Fire’s musical and spiritual influences is Fort Worth’s notorious Hell’s Half-Acre, a rowdy chapter from Cowtown’s past as the real Wild Wild West. “Something happened here to inspire music,” Heath said. “We get inspiration from that era.”

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