This past Saturday night was spent with the incomparable Dallas band, the Paper Chase. Playing a full-on live set with new drummer Jason Garner, it's very safe to say the last time I saw a show of this caliber was At the Drive-In back in 1999. It just so happens both shows happened at the same venue: Rubber Gloves in Denton.
Back when At the Drive-In played (with Jimmy Eat World and a local band called Post From Vermont), Rubber Gloves was half the size it is now. There was no bar area; it was just the main room with the stage, but the stage itself was half the size it is now. At the Drive-In blew my head off (as did Jimmy Eat World), but it was At the Drive-In that was so incredibly visceral. I've seen plenty of shows since then, but I had not seen that kind of mixture of sincere performance with violent sounds, great tunes (and a lot of fun) in a long time.
I had seen the Paper Chase twice before and both were acoustic shows. Though they sounded much more toned down in an acoustic setting, they passed the litmus test. A big part of what attracted me to their material was how tuneful and melodic the songs are without the samples, big drums and dissonant guitar notes. With the samples, big drums and dissonant guitar notes, they take on a whole other level. And it's a good level.
I've seen pianist Sean Kirkpatrick play a number of solo shows, but I had never seen him be so percussive on the piano. I had never heard a bass tone so meaty and ugly (in a nice way) until I heard Bobby Weaver play. With Jason behind the drums, he played more like Dale Crover plays; as in, he uses every part of every limb to beat the snot out of his drums and cymbals. His timing was incredible and forceful. And I thought I hit the drums hard . . .
John Congleton was a master showman, wiggling his body all around while jabbing his guitar with traditional and non-traditional notes and chords. He even drew blood on his right hand because of playing so hard. Not that drawing blood is a requirement, but it was proof he was unafraid to play as intensely as possible.
Playing a number of songs from Now You Are One of Us, the packed audience warmly received them with applause and singing along. That in itself was thrilling to see in a day and age where people might find the Paper Chase as an old hat. For me, I'm glad the band is still around. As evidenced by their last few records, their material has become even stronger with a nice mix of beautiful and ominous sounds. Definitely not something I could convince my parents as good music, but this music affects me very deeply and not just as fan of music. Being able to face fear and confronting fear have been a major factors in the last few years.
To be honest, I don't think I would have understood a band like the Paper Chase back in '99. At the Drive-In was probably as far as I could go with music this intense. I had heard a couple of Paper Chase tracks (including a torn-up version of the Police's "Wrapped Around Your Finger") and found them distracting instead of welcoming. Now, maybe I could credit Tom Waits or maybe I could credit seeing the band play acoustic sets, but noisy dissonance mixed with pretty music and powerful playing makes total sense to me now.