In A Blanket of Dark, With Stage Lights & Skilled Musicians

An eclectic smattering of hipsters, artists and long-time fans stood in line outside The Prophet Bar in Dallas. Posters plastered in windows advertised upcoming bands. A Few clouds dotted the sky and cleared out as the sun set and the doors opened.

Inside the cavernous, modern club space, the stage glowed to the right with umbrellas washed in a saturated pink. Their ethereal color and simple curves blazed off the image of a black and white figure washed in a gray purple light walking a lonely alley with his single companion, an open umbrella.

Leagues, the first band, spilled out over the stage with a roll of simmering anticipation. During set-up and tuning, the band razzed each other. Lead singer Thad Cockrell’s commented, "We’re Leagues. Also known as the opener. Kind of like the intrusive conversation you didn’t ask for."

A quick count, and they were good to go.Bassist Mike Simons set a moody undertone, texturing and driving lead guitarist Tyler Burkum in the first song. The two played off each other like particles of light, setting off bursts of energy which sparked for the rest of the set. Drummer Jeremy Lutito beat out the rhythm of everything from California beach party with a punk edge. Lead singer Thad Cockrell’s bad boyswagger evoked the classic rocker vibe, but his rough voice, and searing falsetto made it his own.

Leagues cleared the stage for Matthew Perryman Jones. Resetting the mic and adjusting his guitar, the stage darkened to a single light surrounding Jones. Photo Courtesy of the Official Website of MPJWaif-like with dark eyes, Jones’ voice gave enough presence to fill the semi-darkened stage. Echoing tones of Waylon Jennings and Bob Dylan, Jones’ lyrics filled the space and lingered in the air. 

Speaking softly between songs, Jones told of how he had read letters written by Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo. Something of the beauty in the letters pricked at him and the album was born. Taking that spark, Jones dug deeper and found the letters of Rumi and Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca wrote of a need for authenticity in art and, more specifically, in music. From the melancholy first notes of his first song to the last lingering reverb of "O, Theo," Jones crafted a love letter of soul-filled, technically lovely music back to his muses.

Leaving the stage dark and the club curiously pensive, Jones meandered to a space tucked behind the exposed brick columns. His quick smile and subtle humility assured that the limited copies of his individually stamped and signed CDs moved briskly.

As a tech snaked through the club taking a guitar from door to stage, bearing it like some banner over his head, the mood of the club shook and settled. Drinks refilled. Bodies moved closer to the stage.

Jars of Clay took the stage unobtrusively. Stephen Mason, Dan Haseltine, and Matt Odmark filed down the staircase and to the front of the stage. Charlie Lowell entered behind, settling in at his keyboard. Gear in place, the headliner launched into "Liquid," a song off their self-titled and most well-known CD, Jars of Clay. "Closer," from The Long Fall Back to Earth, rolled through with an easy beat. 

Just before starting Scarlet, Haseltine said the song had begun to mean something different to the band now. He shared the story of a woman who attended one of the group’s concerts and wept soulfully as the song played, then shared her story after the concert. She, who had worn a scarlet letter, spoke of the song finding her, of quieting the voices in her head. He said it gave her space to make different decisions.

Leagues’ drummer Jeremy Lutito slipped back in to run command on the snare drum for "Oh My God." His pounding, demanding beat thrummed through the space. Paired with Dan Haseltine’s rapid-response lyrics, the end of the song disquieted like a broken prayer. 

Photo Courtesy of Marissa Miller

Photo Courtesy of Marissa Miller

Then came a serious highlight of the evening, or as Haseltine described it, "one of the most hope-filled songs we know." "All My Tears" frolicked through the space with a surprising joy, showing unique harmonies between all of the band members. Voices merged, blended and then rejoined, making complex harmonies seem like easy conversation.

Lights faded slowly and leftstriking blue umbrellas in a gentle dark. The band withdrew as night seemed to settle into the club. The audience continued to clap and pound as the musicians made their way up the stairs. 

In that in-between time when the audience could have cleared out or the bands could return, paradoxes throughout the evening lightning bug-flickered through my thoughts. Unexpected music crushes Leagues and Matthew Perryman Jones sounded tinny in places, while Jars sounded just like a long-time fan would expect them to. It made me wonder how much beauty goes unseen because it’s unexpected, how much seeing only what is limits what may have been.

Spontaneous applause drew my attention back to the stage. Jars re-emerged, joined quickly by Leagues and Matthew Perryman Jones. Grouping together around the mics, tambourines and cow bells appeared while hands set to clapping out the rhythm of "Road to Nowhere."

Voices rose out of the audience, blending with the musicians’ on stage. As the song’s hook beat at the walls of the club. Somehow rather than being in a rough club in the artistic part of some urban sprawl, the space changed to a back porch out in some field. In a blanket of dark, with stage lights and skilled musicians, a community formed.