Scenes From Centro-matic’s Farewell Tour Kickoff At The Kessler Theater.
In a disgustingly fitting turn of events, last night’s Centro-matic show at the Kessler Theater did not sell out in advance.
Make no mistake: The turnout was strong, no doubt about it. And by the time the headliners took the stage in the intimate and revered Oak Cliff venue, capacity very well may have been reached. But sad the fact remains: In its final scheduled Dallas show — the kickoff to its farewell tour as the band sets to fade away into that good night — Centro-matic didn’t sell out this room, not ahead of time at least.
Blame any number of factors. The fact that it was a Tuesday night couldn’t have helped matters. Nor could the fact that, in less than three weeks’ time, the band will be playing a trio of long-sold-out goodbye shows at Dan’s Silverleaf in its hometown of Denton, just an hour north of here.
Or, perhaps, don’t cast any blame at all. Maybe this was just how the band’s final Dallas show was supposed to go. After all, there has to be a reason why a band such as this one — one that very much still wields its fastball — is calling it quits. At a certain point, say right around two decades into the game, one imagines that being hailed as criminally underappreciated and perpetually underrated probably loses its luster.
Not on this night, though. Not at this show. Last night, one final time in Dallas, the band reprised the role that it has so admirably and charmingly played around these parts for so long. The whole night bore a somber, bittersweet tone — and yet, remarkably, it also felt perfectly triumphant.
Such has long been par for course at Centro-matic shows: This is a band hailed by a selected, but endlessly dedicated, set; to see Centro-matic in a live setting, among these acolytes, with the band playing flawlessly on and its lyrics emphatically being shouted back at the stage, is to be taken to church. It’s also a practice in awe: Watching this band perform, it’s hard not to wonder how bigger things never came for it.
Last night fit that bill: For almost 90 minutes, the band catered to this familiar audience of longtime fans and respected peers by pulling in songs from across its now-20-year history — from “Fidgeting Wildly” off of its debut 1996 Re-Do The Stacks LP to 2011’s “Iso-Residue” from 2011’s Candidate Waltz. And, more often than not, these varied cuts came with stories courtesy of Centro-matic’s ever-respected, gregarious-on-this-night-at-least frontman and principal songwriter, Will Johnson.
Before “Members Of The Show Them How It’s Done” from 1999’s All The Falsest Hearts Can Try, the gravity of the night’s expected nostalgic bent was not lost Johnson, who quipped the following: “If this song were a kid — by God — it’d be in the eighth grade right now.” Indeed it would be.
There were other asides, too — including the anticipated baseball references (Kirby Puckett and the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves in this instance), given Johnson’s long-noted artistic obsession with the national pastime. Mostly, though, there were goodbyes.
“We’re putting our boots back in our saddle for one last ride,” Johnson announced earlier in his band’s set as his partners in straightforward rock nigh-infallibility — multi-instrumentalists Scott Danbom and Mark Hedman, and drummer Matt Pence — listened on. Later, Johnson shouted out specific friends in the crowd and thanked them for their support throughout the years — most notably Idol Records founder Erv Karwelis, whose label released five of Centro-matic’s 11 LPs, and The Deathray Davies’ John Dufilho, whom Johnson welcomed on stage for a brief tambourine solo and guest backing vocal appearance.
“Dallas has been good to us,” Johnson continued, launching into a story about his band’s first forays into the Big City after it had cut its teeth at Denton’s The Argo in the wake of the dissolution of Johnson’s previous band, Funland, in which he served as the drummer.
A more appropriate sentiment, however, would be that Centro-matic has been good to Dallas — and not necessarily the other way around. This Kessler crowd was probably the largest Dallas one that the band had seen since its 2008 Dual Hawks release show at the Granada Theater, and yet the band has never let that throw its performances; Centro-matic is perhaps the most consistent band in town in that its live musicianship is always tight and its appeal always palpable. Crowd sizes notwithstanding, Centro-matic just keeps showing up — and keeps quietly stunning those who follow suit.
Yes, Centro-matic has been good to Dallas. And as opening acts The Angelus and Doug Burr, each of which impressed with more-rowdy takes on their songs than perhaps expected, repeatedly reminded the crowd during their own sets, that’s something to be appreciated.
Those in attendance at the Kessler last night already got that. The real shame is that there have always been — and now seemingly will always remain — audiences that never did.