They Might Be Giants’ “Dallas (Trees).”
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week in this space, we’ll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we’ll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours. Check out this feature’s archives here.
In 1976, Fort Worth oil heir T. Cullen Davis was charged with murdering his step-daughter and the boyfriend of his estranged wife, who were shot dead during an apparent burglary.
A billionaire at the time, Davis was, at that point, the richest person to stand trial in United States. For a year, the trial gripped the nation — much in the same way that O.J. Simpson’s trial would a couple decades later.
Although he was eventually acquitted of the crimes, this didn’t stop him from allegedly hiring a hitman to shoot his wife in 1978. And yet: Taped conversations between Davis and an undercover officer posing as a gunman somehow still didn’t prove enough to convict the billionaire in that trial, either.
Though, granted, the above is a bit of an odd place to start, these events all led to this week’s Song About Dallas being written.
At each stop on their 2004 US tour, They Might Be Giants wrote a new song as a special surprise for their audiences. Each one intended to celebrate the unique characteristics of that night’s venue.
By the end of 2004, live soundboard recordings of these songs were released as Venue Songs. In 2005, the tunes were re-recorded in-studio and released as a CD/DVD package. Fortunately for Dallasites, that 2004 tour included a two-night stint at Trees, which will be forever immortalized in parody song based on “We Have Heaven” by the English rock band Yes.
Even before TMBG came along, though, Trees was a pretty legendary venue. And it may have never opened in the first place if Cullen Davis hadn’t hidden some of his money in his son Brian’s bank account. On May 3, 1990, Brian held a grand opening for his new loosely jungle-themed bar at 2709 Elm Street (check out the flyer from that party here). To be fair, a few of the venue’s columns, which vaguely resembled tree trunks, were really the only themed attribute. About a year later, brothers Brady and Brandt Wood of Entertainment Collaborative, Inc. purchased the space and assumed Davis’ debts.
That’s when music really started to take over Trees. It was a great run, too. Hell, even before Trees started hosting the legendary acts it later would, the local music boom of the early ’90s was enough to keep the 900-plus-person capacity venue afloat. North Texas bands like the Toadies, Rigor Mortis, MC 900 Ft Jesus, Tripping Daisy, Reverend Horton Heat, Funland, Course of Empire, The Buck Pets and The New Bohemians all received record deals around that time, and most preferred to play Trees whenever they were in town.
With these groups’ successes, other bands started to follow suit.
Of course, what really helped make Trees the go-to spot in town for rising, mid-level acts coming through the region was Nirvana’s much-storied fiasco and the ensuing near-riot that took place at the club in October 1991. The rest of that night’s events have been well-documented by former Trees promoter Jeff Liles before, and probably merit an entire column of their own down the line.
According to Liles, though, Nirvana drummer (and later Foo Fighters founder) Dave Grohl once told him, “Even if I retired tomorrow, I’ll always have that show at Trees to tell my kids about.” Considering Grohl’s accomplishments, which have been gargantuan and frequent, that statement really says something about the legendary chaos surrounding that night.
But there are lots of storied moments from the venue’s past. Tim DeLaughter, for instance, played the club several times in Tripping Daisy’s heyday as well as in the early days of the Polyphonic Spree. It’s fair to assume he thought he had the run of the place. One night when he wasn’t performing, he was said to have jumped onstage and grabbed a mic. When a security guard kicked him off the stage for that act, the move didn’t sit too well with DeLaughter. Allegedly, he staked out near the sound booth, waited for the sound guy to look away and proceeded to turn every volume fader to 10, causing massive feedback. Only then was he ejected from the club.
Other moments weren’t quite that spontaneous. In 1996, the venue got a little national pub when it was featured in an episode of Walker Texas Ranger. In the episode, Walker was hot on the trail of a killer posing as a photographer for Dallas rockers Baboon during a set at the venue. Former Dallas Observer music editor Robert Wilonsky wrote a piece for that week’s paper describing the odd scene that took place during the filming of that episode, with moshing extras and band members thrashing to complete silence during filming (music would be added in later during post-production). Also somewhat humorous: Lines of dialogue from the script between Walker and his partner C.D. focus on how younger generations could even begin to enjoy this type of music.
In July 2004, a physical altercation outside Trees’ sister venue, the nearby Gypsy Tea Room, left one attendee of that night’s Old 97’s concert permanently disabled. After a couple of years of litigation, Entertainment Collaborative eventually filed for bankruptcy as a last resort, ultimately sealing the fates for both of Deep Ellum’s biggest venues.
Thankfully, the Prophet Bar picked up where the Gypsy left off. More recently, in 2009, former Firewater Bar & Grill talent buyer and Vanilla Ice touring drummer Clint Barlow poured his life savings into re-opening Trees.
And the legendary bookings have continued, too, most recently with that April 10, 2012, At the Drive-In reunion show, which sold out in a matter of minutes.
Along those lines, we’ve put together a list of some of the club’s more notable bookings from its initial run. Note that, for many of these early ’90s grunge acts, their Trees stop represents their first-ever Dallas performance.
• May 3, 1990: Trees’ Grand Opening.
• October 28, 1990 : Sonic Youth.
• January 31, 1991: The Jesus Lizard.
• May 11, 1991: Tripping Daisy.
• October 19, 1991: Nirvana.
• October 26, 1991: Bob Mould.
• August 10, 1991: Smashing Pumpkins.
• November 23, 1991: Blues Traveler.
• December 11, 1991: Pearl Jam.
• February 24, 1992: Widespread Panic.
• December 10, 1992: Mudhoney.
• July 3, 1993: Radiohead.
• June 7, 1994: Beck.
• August 20, 1994: Toadies’ Rubberneck Release Show.
• December 17, 1994: Dave Matthews Band.
• January 13, 1995: Marilyn Manson.
• April 4, 1995: Weezer.
• February 3, 1996: Blur.
• November 6, 1996: Wilco.
• November 15, 1997: The Deftones.
• January 23, 1998: Whiskeytown.
• March 9, 1999: Elliot Smith.
• March 17, 1999: The Flaming Lips.
• April 22, 1999: Slash’s Snakepit.
• October 3, 1999: Pavement.
• September 19, 2000: Nickelback.
• July 14, 2001: The Polyphonic Spree.
• September 13, 2001: The White Stripes.
• November 26, 2001: Conor Oberst.
• June 11, 2002: Guided By Voices & My Morning Jacket.
• October 23, 2002: Built to Spill.
• March 20, 2004: The Killers
• July 17/18, 2004: They Might Be Giants.
• January 2, 2006: Trees Closes, Remains Shut for Next Three Years.