Review 6-27-09 Fort Worth, TX

It was about 3:00 or so Saturday afternoon when I called our friends in Ft Worth to cancel out on the evenings festivities. It really did look pretty hopeless at that point; stranded in a 7-11 parking lot off I-30 in Arlington, sweltering in the 100 degree heat, waiting for a tow truck to come and take our badly overheated car back home.

Then I suppose it was due to the angels intervening on our behalf but things all started coming together in our favor. The tow truck showed up hours before we were expecting it and got us home just in time for a neighbor to offer to loan us his car and just like that, it was on again!

So after all the high drama we still made it out to the Fort Worth Stockyards and got to the newly re-opened Longhorn Saloon plenty early enough to score a choice table.

It’s a very nice room, that Longhorn Saloon, with a couple of levels, three bars, reasonably good sound and it’s got a whole lot of history too. After Saturday night’s Gourds show, they can probably add another chapter.

We had plenty of time to kill, so after a couple beers I wandered over to one of the guys who work the bar and asked who was opening the show… “Some band” he told me.

“Some band” turned out to be The Gourds’ own Kevin Russell, doing one of his all-too-elusive Shinyribs solo sets. There just can’t be a better way to start an evening of Texas’ best roots-dance-techno-jug musical amalgamation than with the folksy acoustic singer- yodeling poet-performance artist at the very heart of much of that music. He told funny little stories and sang songs straight from the fetid underbelly of what they’re calling “Americana” these days. It was kind of like a big fat bonus grub worm for all of us early birds, strong satisfying stuff.

You could pretty much feel the buzz in the room when The Gourds finally took the stage. That may or may not have had something to do with the girls who came by earlier passing out sample shots of way-too-sweet Southern Comfort and lime (it took another shot of real whiskey to clear the palate of that gawd-awful stuff). By then the crowd had filled out to a perfectly respectable but not at all uncomfortable size. You could easily walk through the dancers to the stage or see the band from your table and still feel like you were at the party that night.

They started things off fittingly enough with “Country Love,” the first track on their latest album, Haymaker! They brought the whole terrible arsenal… mandolin, banjo, tambourine, fiddle, accordion, guitars, keyboards and a set of drums that got a thoroughly rhythmic pounding by Keith Langford.

Now even on an off night the Gourds are better than 95 per cent of the live music you’re likely to find playing anywhere but on a good night they can be downright transcendental. This was no off night.

At first I thought maybe it was just me being all happy to be there and shit; but no, it was definitely them. Other people there confirmed that for me, I wasn’t just hearing things…voices were in key and strings were in sync and every note sounded exactly right. They did less of the between song banter than usual but more than made up for that by playing every damn thing they played just about perfect. As usual, it was a mix of old and new. (…and yeah, that describes the audience as well as the set list. Funny thing about even the most raucous Gourds shows… you never feel like the oldest guy in the room, even if you are)

The three primary Gourdian singer-songwriters, Russell, Jimmy Smith and Max Johnson did their usual song swap repertoire and even the songs I wouldn’t normally list as favorites were sounding great. I don’t even think I can point to any highlights. Everything sounded as good as I can imagine it should sound. The band was having as great a time as the crowd. It was like a shared delirium, which is how it should be.

One thing I’ve learned following these guys is that a good deal of that contagious musical delirium can be credited to red headed accordion slinging keyboard player Claude Bernard. Like everyone else in this hippiefied traveling tent show of an ensemble, he’s an essential element. And like all the others, when he’s on it always makes a big difference.

A question we had all pondered at some point that day, how would they pay tribute to the week’s biggest media saturated news event. They answered that in high style the very end of their four song encore- a straight up disco, note for note cover of “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” You could be forgiven for expecting a “Gin N Juice” treatment of that one, or for them to fuck it up somehow but, maybe out of respect or maybe just for the sheer hell of it, they kept it real with Kev singing the falsetto lead over Jimmy’s pounding bass and some authentic disco sounding keys by Claude. OK, so Max played a banjo but still.

They’re coming back to these parts in a couple months to play The Granada in Dallas and that’s another venue where they never fail to deliver the goods. And I’m pretty sure that one is gonna be a whole lot easier for me to get to.

1 comment:

  1. It was a great show. Seemed like they played everything a little faster than usual, to my liking. The energy on stage was great. Unfortunately, I had to leave before they busted out MJ... but there's always next time.