© Rhonda Peterson
The Gourds’ barroom hoedown sells out Top Hat
By Jed Nussbaum
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The first surprise I encountered when I walked into the Top Hat on Friday night to see The Gourds was how young I was compared to most of the audience. A large portion of the crowd had kissed their early twenties goodbye quite some time ago – though judging by their behavior, you couldn't tell the difference. Women ripped the snaps on their boyfriends' shirts apart and middle-aged men joined hands to dance with each other in drunken reverie. You could see the hangovers brewing from across the room.
The second surprise was how many people were there in the first place. This was the first of two consecutive sold-out shows, a testimony to how much Missoula loves this band. The Gourds have become a staple here, showing up at least once a year to let everybody know what having a good time is all about. I'd caught the Texan outfit once before a few years ago, and was familiar with a couple of their albums, but I didn't consider myself a convert yet, so I was eager to see if Friday night would change that.
Make no mistake: frontman Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell is a big man. But his size doesn't get in the way of his ability to dance around the stage like a madman, duck-walking at one moment and flapping his arms around as if he didn't have elbows the next. He led the crowd in singalongs for the first few songs, his shit-eating grin and boisterous presence perfect for communicating the band's penchant for partying. Though the whole band shared microphone duties, Russell and bassist Jimmy Smith sang the bulk of the songs, alternating between Russell's country-fried soul singing and Smith's punk-rock attitude with a Southern twist.
The band started strong with crowd-pleasers like "El Paso" and "Trampled by The Sun." "Here's another summertime song. Y'all need some sun, don't you?" Smith hollered at the crowd before launching into "El Paso," obviously aware of Missoula's vitamin D deprivation.
Unfortunately, the group lost momentum after the first few numbers. The tempo for the first half of the show began to drag, and the band spent too much time tuning or conversing onstage. I found myself spending more time milling around the audience than watching the stage, and even the more hardcore fans in the audience seemed uninspired. I began to wonder if the band wasn't over-imbibing more than the crowd.
About a dozen songs in, however, The Gourds shifted gears and revved the engine of their country-rock vehicle. Russell traded in his mandolin for an electric guitar, and Smith adopted a Johnny Rotten sneer as they plowed through numbers like "Country Love," "All in the Pack," and the Southern boogie of "High Highs and Low Lows." Multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston held it down on the fiddle for most of the rest of the show, and on the other side of the stage, multi-instrumentalist Claude Bernard tried valiantly to blow back the encroaching marijuana smoke.
The Gourds finished up their set and left the stage, only to return minutes later with the ballad "I Like Drinking," delivered in true drunken fashion, and directly followed by their quintessential number, a cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." They didn't stop there, transitioning into a bluegrass rendition of The Beatles' "Octupus's Garden," followed by Cheap Trick's "Surrender," and a handful of other classic rock teases before bringing it back to "Gin and Juice." Russell offered up one last shot as a toast to Missoula before leaving the stage as the crowd howled in appreciation. They may be a glorified bar band, but they're the best damn bar band around, missed notes, wrong keys and all.