To Celebrate Five Years In The Game, Deep Ellum Venue Three Links Threw Itself Four Parties Over The Course Of Three Nights This Weekend.
Deep Ellum’s Three Links celebrated it’s fifth anniversary the same way it does every year — by jam-packing three nights in a row with the some of the club’s favorite local and road bands, with a moderate dose of new (at least to the Three Links stage) talent sprinkled in to keep things fresh.
(Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s SXSW season — you can’t throw a rock without hitting a secondary or tertiary “festival” of bands to-ing and fro-ing the 250-mile radius around Austin for most of March — and bands are eager to make an impression on Dallas in one of the showcase venues that is just about perfect for the purpose.)
On Thursday, about 30 young Dallas punks moshed their way into the crusty hearts of the observant old codgers who’d come out to catch the bill topped surf-punk legends Agent Orange. The stage was a continual thoroughfare of stage-divers throughout the sets of local-ish punk traditionalists American Shit Storm and Noogy, each of which sent a band member out over the crowd in solidarity at least once during their respective sets. That kind of traffic was a little bit harder to manage with Oakland’s The Atom Age, whose stage-filling six-man lineup at first reinforced the expectation of a mid-century throwback, but pretty quickly gave way to the kind of energy that would be perfect for yet more stage-diving — well, if not for the risk of stage-divers getting kneecapped by the most flailingly rocking stage organ you’ve ever seen, anyway.
Sidenote: There’s a thing some stage-divers tend to do, probably to get really good “air” as they jump into the (hopefully) waiting arms of the crowd. They use a stage monitor — those black wedge-shaped speakers that have crenellated the fronts of rock stages for decades, and towards which musicians are almost pointing in order to get “more me” — as a sort of stepping-stone or springboard to help make sure they land on top of the crowd rather than just kind of in the crowd. The problem, of course, is that those speakers are actually being used and have often been carefully placed to maximize what the performer can hear and minimize those annoying squeal-y feedback noises. Those speakers are intentionally portable to they can be positioned just right for each band on a night’s bill, which of course means they’re not really secured to the floor. So when stage-divers use them to kick-off into the crowd, the almost inevitable result is that the speaker gets flopped-over, usually pointing in some radically different direction, sometimes right on top of the carefully arranged pedals of a guitarist. It takes a particular kind of attitude and composure, the kind that usually comes with lots of experience, to deal with that kind of annoyance on a nightly basis.
Few who hit the Three Links stage have more experience than Agent Orange, who’ve been plying their trade since about 1979, and who kept their composure on Thursday despite the fact that their stage monitors were flipped over at least once per song. They’ve been doing this so long that some of the kids in the crowd — literal children, I mean — could actually be the grandchildren of people who saw the band at, say, the Theatre Gallery (formerly on Commerce, sort of across the street from Buzzbrews) in the early and mid ’80s. It’s entirely likely that many of the stage-divers have never been aware of any other line-up of the band than this current (and killer) lineup, which is the “new” one in place since 2009. And no matter; these kids know legit punk when they hear it, and they respond accordingly. Hey, another reason for the old codgers in the crowd to be proud of the kids or grandkids or whatever they are!
On Friday, the stage-diving and crowd-surfing gave way to another anthropological study — one filled with horn flourishes — as Denton’s The Holophonics, and Madaline opened for England’s Bad Manners, a band without whom these younger ska might not even exist. But that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg at Links — known to some as HQ — on Friday, as the venue booked not one but two celebratory offerings to itself on this night. For the night’s second act, the reins were handed to Thin Lizzy tribute Whiskey Jar and, perhaps, to whiskey itself, as the bar and everyone inside of it joined in on a midnight toast of the brown stuff to five years. To hear Saturday’s attendees tell it, Friday’s offering got rather fuzzy after that.
But their hangovers weren’t too bad, it doesn’t seem. People still made it out to the venue before 8 p.m. to catch the first of the seven bands on this sold-out offering’s bill. Impressive stuff, considering a missed train or even the slightest trouble parking could’ve meant missing Lethal Dose or Decent Criminal, the NoCal band traveling with Teenage Bottlerocket and Brooklyn’s MakeWar, getting into the room just in time to sing along to local (and crowd) favorites Lizzie Boredom and finally making one’s way to the bar to order their first drink by the time things got started by From Parts Unknown, who would likely be this local rock generation’s Reverend Horton Heat if there weren’t already the actual Reverend Horton Heat still plying their timeless psychobilly trade for seemingly every generation.
Things were packed to the gills by the time the Brooklyn-based MakeWar managed to somehow make a more immersive noise than any three-piece should be able to make, much of it attributable to close but understated harmonies. Next up, Damage Case’s name, taken from a Motorhead song, left no doubt as to what this crowd was going to hear, except this Dallas band was still somehow even faster and louder than anticipated. At the center of it all was Wyoming’s Teenage Bottlerocket — probably the main reason that this show was sold out since all of their shows at Three Links have sold-out, and definitely the force that kept die-hard fans magnetically crammed up against the front of the stage, singing along with every hook.
There’s really something to be said for giving fans exactly what they want. Three Links has figured that out, as well a way to make its books work, too. It’s hard to do the math, but just about every band this weekend stopped their set long enough to lead a club-wide toast to Three Links for their fifth anniversary. Assuming a several hundred people went through the venue over the three-night celebration, and assuming some significant portion of those people had a drink in their hand to toast with, that works out to 1.5 metric shitloads of shots and/or swigs taken on in celebration. Assuming a pour cost of something or other, that’s one way to almost guarantee the club will be around for another five years.
“They say once you’ve made it five years you’ve really made it,” one reveler could be heard saying over the peak din of the venue’s back patio as the music was still firing away inside the venue on Saturday. It was hard to tell if it was a throwaway comment, a truism borrowed from some other aspect of life — like relationships or quitting smoking — or just a serious (and supportive) piece of accepted small-business wisdom. Either way, the guy who offered the statement had, like just about everybody else at the table, been celebrating the club’s fifth anniversary for hours or maybe even days at that point. It was his way of offering some between-shots affirmation to Scott Beggs, Links’ GM and most visible owner, for some obviously hard work.
Beggs looked around through the cigarette smoke that just has a way of lingering around this open-air space to his other table-mates, a few of whom were also small-business owners. Small business owners know there are no guarantees, time-based or otherwise, and nobody knows that better than someone like Beggs, who has been in the Deep Ellum venue trenches for decades at this point. The consensus around the table was to meet this guy’s earnest good will at half-way with a slight modification of his statement.
“Well,” Beggs replied, “once you’ve made it five years, you’ve definitely made it… five years.”
Call us crazy, but we’ve got a feeling they’ll find a way to last a few more, too. Here’s hoping, anyway.