Back for the first time: Dallas band Pleasant Grove celebrates 20th anniversary of “Auscultation of the Heart”

The members of Pleasant Grove stand around a wooden staircase

Pleasant Grove
Photo: Spencer Martinez

As is the case with certain bands, Pleasant Grove’s recorded output is inverse to the depth of its influence.

The Dallas indie rock band blossomed into existence two decades ago, arriving seemingly fully formed in an extremely fertile scene with its self-titled debut, which was followed quickly by 2002’s extraordinary Auscultation of the Heart and 2004’s The Art of Leaving.

Then, the band drifted apart — though never officially calling it quits — sorting through a few personal, off-stage issues, before returning to the studio for 2015’s The Heart Contortionists, the band’s (as of this writing, anyway) most recent LP.

Now, nearly a decade after The Heart Contortionists’ release, the acclaimed band — Bret Egner, Chris Mayes, Jeff Ryan, Marcus Striplin and Tony Hormillosa, with Kim Herriage joining on pedal steel — is performing live Friday at the Kessler Theater, in part to mark the 20th anniversary of Auscultation of the Heart by performing it in full.

The band will be joined on the bill by Bosque Brown and Derek Rogers. (The same line-up will also perform Saturday in Austin, at Captain Quackenbush’s Coffeehouse.)

Friday’s showcase will also acknowledge their sophomore album’s release in America — a quirk of the band’s history is that the 2002 LP was initially made available only in Europe, owing to the murky vagaries of the music business.

“[German record label] Glitterhouse Records [which released Heart in Europe in 2002] was called, at the time, the ‘Sub Pop of Europe’ because it worked so closely with so many Sub Pop bands, and distributed the likes of Mudhoney [and] Monster Magnet … [label representatives] caught Pleasant Grove at a South by Southwest show and signed us pretty much on the spot,” Ryan said via email. “We were able to tour Europe … which was all amazing, and we loved having a home, so to speak, so far away from our own.”

The band subsequently signed with Badman Recording Co. in America — which had released work from Mark Kozelek and My Morning Jacket — only to discover the American label wasn’t particularly interested in re-releasing music already available in Europe.

“We put a few of those songs on that release called The Art of Leaving along with a bunch of newer songs, which maybe wasn’t the smartest move, because all the songs on Auscultation of the Heart, we now realize, all belong together,” Ryan said via email.

Pleasant Grove rectified that gap in its discography last year, re-releasing (or, more accurately, allowing an official American debut for) Auscultation of the Heart on vinyl, via the band’s own label, Solid Systems Limited. And this release will not be the final word from Pleasant Grove: Ryan said via email that Egner and Striplin “have a lot of new material that we want to record, and we’re definitely not putting a timeline on it.”

Friday’s showcase will also serve as a testament to Pleasant Grove’s quiet endurance, a reminder that, sometimes, just because a band isn’t visibly active doesn’t mean it’s faded from importance.

“We never thought of doing things necessarily the ‘right’ way or in the most calculated way to achieve success — we just did things the way we wanted, and at the pace we wanted,” Ryan said via email. “Why we’ve lasted so long is the fact that, really, we’re just very close friends [and] family … and we can’t ever think of not being in a band, one way or another, given all the years we’ve spent together, recording, touring, and just being in each other’s lives.”

Pleasant Grove, Bosque Brown and Derek Rogers at Kessler Theater, Dallas. 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $20.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.