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Review: KXT Summer Cut at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Posted 5:04pm on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014

Without really meaning to, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard summed up the third annual KXT Summer Cut: Happy Funtime Fest in a single sentence.

“It kind of feels like an indie rock reunion, class of 2003,” Gibbard said during the evening’s final set, referencing other veteran acts like Iron & Wine and the Hold Steady.

The singer-songwriter then returned to the task at hand — thrilling the crowd with tunes from Death Cab’s back catalog — but his observation lingered.

The Dallas-based KXT celebrates its fifth year of existence in 2014, and this festival, in its third year, is traditionally something of an outlier on the increasingly crowded DFW concert calendar.

There is, quite frankly, a taste evident in booking this event that’s often absent elsewhere (Homegrown, Index and the Untapped festivals will occasionally book interesting acts, but not always).

But this year’s line-up — nine bands spread across two stages — was striking in its homogeneity.

Almost every band was full of white males, making either folk, rock or folk-rock music.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, a smart, indie-pop band fronted by the dynamic Thao Nguyen, was the lone act featuring even a woman, never mind someone who wasn’t Caucasian. (Austin’s the Oh Hellos included women among its sprawling ensemble, but they were the only other exception.)

While the music being made, broadly speaking, was good to great, the near-total absence of women and performers of color was troubling.

The North Texas music scene has no shortage of either, and the lack of representation, particularly at a festival sponsored by a radio station that regularly proclaims its support of local music, is disappointing.

Perhaps it was just a fluke (the inaugural Summer Cut, in 2012, featured St. Vincent and the now defunct Smile Smile, while last year’s rain-bedeviled installment included Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Matt & Kim), but it’s one which the parties responsible for booking next year’s event should keep in mind.

What was on hand Friday at a scorchingly hot Gexa Energy Pavilion was enjoyable, although the musicians scheduled to perform just after the gates opened at 4:30 p.m. deserve some sort of special recognition for playing, despite stifling temperatures.

Dallas’ Valise won over a paltry crowd with its widescreen pop-rock, while Fort Worth’s the Orbans (back for a make-up after their set last year was washed out) doled out the sparkling rock gems they’re known for.

Austin’s the Oh Hellos, a massive collection of musicians evoking Fort Worth’s Telegraph Canyon on steroids, impressed with its dramatic showcase, while Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (who mentioned some of their most recent album was cut in Dallas) ripped into a terrific set.

Closer to home, Fort Worth’s the Unlikely Candidates knocked out a lean, mean set, just as the North Texas-rooted Wild Feathers (back for what seems like their umpteenth festival appearance in DFW this year) closed out the second stage in style.

Not even the blazing sun could dim Craig Finn’s enthusiasm as he and the Hold Steady took the main stage for a late afternoon slot, still conjuring its beer-soaked novellas set to roaring rock riffs.

Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, mixed a few raw-nerved tunes into what often felt like a stand-up routine — “You guys are a lot of fun,” he kept remarking — even as his hypnotic folk lullabies were dissipated somewhat by the beginning of the Wild Feathers’ set (Beam simply rolled with the sound bleed).

The night’s headliner, Death Cab for Cutie, brought the main stage audience to its feet — the crowd sat through all the other acts — and cheering ecstatically for tracks like I Will Possess Your Heart and I Will Follow You Into the Dark. With dramatic, swirling lights often leaving Gibbard and his bandmates shrouded in darkness, the effect was not unlike listening to a Death Cab in a darkened bedroom, the sound spilling out of the shadows.

KXT’s Summer Cut was, on balance, an enjoyable, if uncomfortably hot, day, with none of the acts truly misfiring or performing poorly. But it couldn’t help feeling a bit same-y, one after the other, a suffocating sense of familiarity.

Perhaps next year will deliver what most festivals should strive for — a mix of favorites tempered by the shock of the new.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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