Frisco If this year's Edgefest is any indication, the Dallas-based radio station might be finished wandering in the wilderness and on the path to restoring its reputation.
For much of the time I've lived in North Texas, 102.1 FM KDGE has been more of a punchline than a destination on the dial. The playlists were firmly stuck in the early 2000s, when rock was at its peak ascendance, and bands like Creed or Nickelback were in heavy rotation. There were fleeting glimpses of music having progressed (and, it must be noted, a steadfast dedication to both local music and, with the Adventure Club, the sorts of sounds that now occasionally pop up on 91.7 FM KKXT), but largely, the Edge didn't have one.
Last summer, long-time Edge DJ Josh Venable was brought back to Dallas and installed as program director. The shift wasn't immediate or abrupt, but I found myself, over the ensuing months, able to leave the radio tuned to 102.1 and not feel tortured. This year's Edgefest is the first one on his watch, and his curatorial hand was evident from the headliners (the Black Keys, Garbage) on down to the more esoteric and cult favorites (Arctic Monkeys, local heroes Chomsky).
The cognitive dissonance between what the Edge has been and what it seems to be aiming at now was most felt whenever acts like Foxy Shazam, Blue October or Evanescence took the stage. For the life of me, I can't discern what makes acts like Blue October or Foxy Shazam appealing, but they have their very vocal fans. Those diehards are, likely, what helps pay the bills at Clear Channel, so as much as Venable might like to play up bands like Cake (which, from my vantage point, appeared to have their set cut a little short, through no fault of its own, because of time overruns earlier in the day), the bellowing, T-shirt clad superfans dying to scream along to Hate Me are what helps justify the whole day-long endeavor in the first place.
Still, the organizers could not have ordered better weather: sunny, with just enough of a breeze to keep things tolerable, and a clockwork set-up that allowed one band to begin just as another ended. FC Dallas Stadium has played host for the last several years, and the city's mayor, Maher Maso, turned up near the end of the day to read a proclamation declaring April 22 as "Edgefest Day."
The sets ranged from terrific (Arctic Monkeys provided a welcome, wry blast of energy; Garbage, performing its first DFW show in a decade, showed no trace of rust) to engaging (Cage the Elephant instigated a crowdsurfing frenzy that stretched well into the night) to abysmal (Foxy Shazam's lead singer, Eric Sean Nally, launched into an extended monologue that probably sounded better in his head than it did in the open air).
The night's headliner, the Black Keys, were all business, punching out a 70-minute set that pulled from all phases of its career. The decade-long overnight successes are enjoying a moment in the sun, thanks to last year's El Camino, and despite the stadium's often cavernous sound quality, tracks like Run Right Back packed just as much bite live as on record.
Was the day enough to make me anticipate next year's Edgefest? Almost -- a lot depends on the line-up -- but it was, much like listening to the Edge these days, a not altogether unpleasant experience. May the sharpening continue.
Below, video of several performances from Edgefest 22.