So Woodeye played at Lolaspalooza this past weekend. I didn't go; I'm taking care of some family business that'll keep me off the set for a good while. But I'm sorry I missed them, in the same way I'm sorry I'll be missing the Gideons at 1919 Hemphill tonight. Both of those bands are prominent in my memory of a time in my life that I cherish, although I wouldn't be foolish enough to want to go back there from where I am now.
Lola's wizard o' sound Andre Edmonson said that some people were surprised to see Woodeye performing, but not for the reason you'd think -- "Oh wow, I thought they broke up." Rather, Dre said, "They were surprised that Carey was in a band." That'd be Carey Wolff, Woodeye's frontman, who tends bar at Lola's now. And that's kind of indicative of the changes in West 7th St. since the Wreck Room -- Woodeye's stomping grounds -- closed back at the ass-end of September 2007.
I'm ambivalent, to say the least, about the "West 7th Corridor," which my sweetie calls "the curmudgeon zone" because every time we cross Montgomery St. heading east on Camp Bowie, I start bitching about "little North Dallas" and "Fort Worth's bar ghetto." But don't get me wrong -- I'd rather see people I know making money than empty storefronts, which is what was there before the spate of development that's taken place the last five years.
I hope that Brian Forella, who owns Lola's, is making money now, and I suspect he is. Will Wells, who owns Poag Mahone's around the corner, told me he tripled his St. Paddy's Day receipts from last year, and Lola's has become a real destination in the Corridor. But the Wreck Room -- the pit into which Brian poured all the treasure from his other enterprises for a decade, where Woodeye bassist Graham Richardson used to tend bar -- was our favorite rockaroll dump of all ti-i-ime and our second living room for five years. We had our wedding party there, and I celebrated my 50th birthday there, with paper flowers my sweetie hung on the chicken wire that framed the stage.
I saw a lot of great bands at the Wreck, back when I was trying to make a living as a freelance journo with the Fort Worth Weekly (a fool's errand): locals like the Gideons, Yeti, the Me-Thinks, Sub Oslo (whose New Year's Eve exorcisms threatened to levitate the joint), Goodwin, The Theater Fire, and Pablo & the Hemphill 7; out-of-towners like Mark Growden, the Boss Martians (best show I ever saw to a house of five people), and That 1 Guy. (I also missed a lot of shows I intended to see, hanging out with my pal Jesse the Painter in his studio behind the Wreck.)
But nobody embodied the spirit of the Wreck, its character and characters, like Woodeye. Thinking about it now, they really were one of my very favorite bands of all ti-i-ime. Not "local bands." I have a problem with the kind of thinking that ranks the four guys in the corner of the bar down the street below the ones onstage at the shed where you have to gape at a Jumbotron to see 'em (and they're still tiny) solely on the basis of being a "local band." (Do you need someone in Pitchfork to tell you what's good? Do you think that economies of scale and the vagaries of chance and the marketplace equate with quality? Then walk on, friend.)
Fella told me once, "Yeah, but most local bands suck." "No," I told him. "Most bands suck." But I've had the experience of being moved to tears by a song sung and played by people I know, in a dump where I could feel my clothes being moved around by real air from speaker cones and kick drum heads a few yards away, and see the musicians sweat and grin at each other when someone makes a mistake, and it whomped the tar out of every big-stage spectacle I've ever beheld.
More to the point, Carey Wolff has written more great songs than anybody I know personally save the Hochimen's Reggie Rueffer, and Such Sweet Sorrow, Woodeye's last CD from 2003, is one of my very favorite albums from its decade. (If you live in Fort Worth and haven't had the pleasure, you might be able to find one if you scour Half Price Books' CD bins. Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have to take my word for it. If a tree falls in the woods...)
Carey was bleary-eyed and gruff as he spouted self-effacing bullshit in between songs, then dug deep into some unfathomable wellspring of hurt and sorrow to sing with incredible emotional candor about things we all understood, but wished we didn't, in a raspy voice that was world-weary and worn by cigarettes and booze. At our wedding party, when he sang "Our Song," a waltz with lyrics about a relationship beyond its last legs, my sweetie 'n' I danced to it like nobody was watching. (Been there, done that. Here's to making it better next time, which is this time.)
Behind his big Thunderbird bass, Graham had the best rock 'n' roll moves in the city, while on guitar, Scott Davis played nothing but the good notes. (Besides Steffin Ratliff, I've never heard a player so formally perfect, who complimented a song so well.) Scott had come up from Houston to go to TCU and was playing in Crinkleroot with his homeboy Jared Blair. Woodeye began when they joined forces with Carey and Graham, who were in Towing Jehovah. (Before that, Carey had played bass in the Dada-ish art band Dead King's Pillow.)
Jared had the distinction of getting knocked out of his chair by Brad Thompson when he went to the Aardvark to heckle the Undulating Band after a Woodeye gig. When Woodeye put the wheels under him, he found out by showing up at the Wreck with his gear when they were already onstage. He had to pay cover to get in.
There was a succession of drummers, starting with Eric Salisbury, who wound up serving as artistic director at Jubilee Theater for a spell after its founder Rudy Eastman had his final curtain call. Young prodigy Dave Karnes briefly occupied the Woodeye thumper throne, but with a jazzer's overconfidence, he overplayed without bothering to learn the tunes. Carey looked over his shoulder and asked, "You having fun back there?" before Scott fired him. (That was part of Scott's job description: firing the drummer.) Once they played the Wreck without any drummer. Andre said the bar sold a record number of whiskey shots that night.
Kenny Smith wound up being the timekeeper that took, and his crisp, economical backbeat anchored Such Sweet Sorrow. After Woodeye folded the tent, he and Scott moved to Austin and went on the road with Hayes Carll. It was quite an experience seeing them playing with that band on some late night TV show. "I remember when..." They're living the dream, and I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.
What's good in all this, besides the music, is how good Carey and Graham look whenever I see them now. And the knowledge that as much as the world changes, good bands don't have to break up; they just don't have to play all the time. Think I'll go give "The Fray" another spin, and lift my imaginary glass...