Review 2-11-10 Portland, OR

The Gourds and Shinyribs show the Doug Fir ‘how it’s done’
by Sam Sanborn on February 15, 2010

Walking into the Doug Fir last Thursday, it was hard not to notice the drunken atmosphere already soggy with cheap beer and spilled red wine. Call it an omen, if you will, or call it good tidings. Either way, those who showed up early were prepping themselves for a wild night.

They were on to something.

First off was The Gourds co-frontman Kevin ‘Shinyribs’ Russell’s self-titled solo project. It was here that we got to see the true personality of Shinyribs. Singing in his folksy, poetry-laden yodel, telling jokes and stories that had the whole room rolling, and busting dance moves that would have made Jacko jealous, Russell demonstrated just “how it’s done” in Americana. His songs sounded like fresh-cut grass in the summer, warm domestic beer, and at times, a forlorn sadness that can only be cured by sweet potatoes. While the set was on the short side, it was no doubt to give extra time to The Gourds, and it was a great look into one of the quintessential southern-folk-rock musicians of our time. This brief glimpse, however, was enough to shed some light into how the following band could play just about anything.

This band was named The Gourds.

The lineup of this dynamic group is full of talent and enough grit to sand a rock wall. The aforementioned Russel (vocals, mandolin, bass, guitar) and co-frontman Jimmy Smith (vocals, bass, guitar, harmonica, sound effects) formed a solid core of personality and folk-style. Behind them was Claude Bernard (accordion, keyboard, guitar, vocals), Max Johnston (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, lap steel, banjo, vocals) and Keith Langford (drums, vocals) who together created a background sound that could have easily stood alone as a good show. But that’s not how The Gourds roll.

With a “swirling flow,” as Russell puts it, and a kinetically charged vibrancy, this band puts on a live show that is hard to beat. This kind of presence reminded me of a Phish show, where you don’t know what you’re in for till they are playing it. Suddenly, you realize that you’ve never really heard them before, despite having listened to their studio recordings. That’s when it hits you and without warning; you’re hooked for life.

Perhaps the most telling example of The Gourds is the array of genres that they were able to squeeze into their set. From groovy folk-funk, arm-swingin’ jams and up-tempo roots rocks to cathartic ballads and slow, drawn out laments, they spanned the entire spectrum of folk, rock and Americana. Combine this with the extensive array of instruments on stage and the way that everyone on stage (aside from Langford) switched instruments around after virtually every song, and you were left with the understanding that given thirty minutes, a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes, this band could learn and play just about any song ever made.

And yes, there were chants of “Freebird.”

If you missed the show, and haven’t seen The Gourds before, consider yourself informed. This is one of the essential shows to see in a lifetime if only to see Shinyribs do his cover of TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,” or Jimmy Smith wail something crazy, or just to see a little accordion action. The best part is, considering their dedicated fan-base and ever-growing arsenal of material to play, they are only going to get better. As someone in the crowd was fond of screaming: “Hooooooooo doggies!”

That about sums it up.

About the author: Sam Sanborn graduated with a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Oregon. After discovering the intricacies and internal workings of our political system, he decided to opt for a more creative track. While he has been published in a wide variety of magazines and journals for everything from poetry to science/tech reviews, Sam is happiest when writing about music in his beloved hometown. Sam currently lives in NW with his ball python, Captain.

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