© Charlie Llewellin
Threadgill's Last Night
There was plenty of Old and Mad at Threadgill's last night, but Joy won by a country mile.
As stellar as the new album is, with its extra cleanliness and attention to detail, I was wondering how the new songs would sound live.
Any worries about the new crop of tunes not fitting in onstage were dispelled immediately, and we didn't have to wait more than 30 seconds to learn that. The Gourds got all up in it, kicking off with a six-pack of new songs from Old Mad Joy. The opener, the extra fun You Must Not Know, is the quirkiest and perhaps least Gourds-sounding song on the record. On stage, it immediately showed it belonged with its brethren.
I don't think anyone who saw their first Gourds show last night would be able to tell which songs were new and which were nearly 20 years old.
One of the best things about the new crop of songs is the abundance of backup singing and shared vocals. It's long been said that the Gourds are greater than the sum of their parts, but I don't think anything proves that to be true more than when they complementing each other vocally. Seeing and hearing all five Gourds singing that gospel-like break in Eyes of Child, or the Motown-esque a cappella part of Peppermint City shows just had tight this band can be. They've always been close-knit musically, but there is something about them displaying a unified front, with all members singing, that just gives them a happy, 'nobody can top us' vibe.
And there seems to be more dedication to showing off the backup singing on the older songs as well. As he does on the album, Claude especially shines.
Having a new crop of songs, and maybe even playing in front of a bunch of fans and friends hungry for new tunes, seemed to really energize the band. Keith and Jimmy seemed to be extra locked in providing the rhythm, Max seemed to be playing extra soulfully and Kev's versatility really stood out as he bounced back and forth on guitar between his beautiful ballads and providing the spark on Jimmy's great batch of new rockers.
At least up front, the bigger-than-usual crowd was WAY into it, even the new songs. Marginalized, Haunted and Eyes of a Child were as great live as they are on record. The new tunes seemed effortless. None seemed like they had only been played only a handful of times, though Jimmy did quip "It'll grow on you" after Melchert.
Apart from the Old Mad Joy songs, the rest of the set list was stellar, as they seemed to reach deep into their catalog. The newer arrangement of Cold Bed (more rock than country) was another that benefited from the renewed emphasis on backup singing. And an encore of Plaid Coat, Ringing Dark & True and Jorge is just about as good as it gets.
Maybe it was being huddled together in the Barn at Woodstock, maybe it's just the joy of having a bunch of great new tunes to show, or maybe it was just me, but the Gourds seemed as energized and focused and playful as I've seem them in a long time.
And the really good news is that a film crew of three or four or five were on stage and in the front row documenting the entire show. They picked a great show to put down for posterity.
© Travis Morse