Review 3-03-12 Austin, TX

March 3rd: The Gourds @ Threadgill's
by Graham Robertson
March 5, 2012

Well, it took a whole six months living in Austin, but I finally made it out to see the alt-country pride of Texas--The Gourds. These guys delivered a hell of a toe-tapping hootenanny on Saturday at Threadgill’s, proving worthiness for their long-standing success with seasoned ease. For me, and likely for many in attendance that night, the experience cradled me in warm nostalgia for my not-so-far-removed phase of Uncle Tupelo fanaticism. The shared membership of Max Johnston from late Uncle Tupelo and early Wilco certainly plays a part in that, but it’s the stylistic similarities ranging from songwriting to vocal intonation that bind together so evocatively of the early 90s alt-country golden age. Still, The Gourds is far from a nostalgia act and also touts its fair share of one-of-a-kind nuances, most notably in the form of mandolin/guitar/vocals front man Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell. On Saturday, each of Russell’s arm-flailing gestures and outrageous dances lifted the crowd to hoots and hollers, satisfying the expectation of showmanship that devoted Gourds fans have come to expect.

Due to both my limited knowledge of The Gourds’ live repertoire as well as the severely deficient bathroom situation at Threadgill’s (one urinal for a crowd of hundreds.. Seriously, Threadgill’s?), I am missing a good chunk of the setlist. If I spot a more complete one online at any point, I’ll be sure to provide an update. Hyperlinked tunes in the setlist provide links to QUALITY VIDEO FROM THE SHOW!! Many thanks to Alive Arkhive for that!

UPDATE 3/9: Full setlist now available thanks to The Gourds News.

Pine Island Bayou
Illegal Oyster
Blue Bottled One

Dooley (trad.)
Darlin’ Corey (trad.)
When The Money Comes Rolling In

My Name Is Jorge

Birthday (Lennon/McCartney) > Yer Blues (Lennon/McCartney)
Tex-Mex Mile
El Paso

Drop What I’m Doing

Your Benefit
Peppermint City

Do 4 U > Bottle Let Me Down tease (Merl Haggard) > Do 4 U

Flamenco Cabaret

Plaid Coat
Lower 48
Burn the Honeysuckle
E: Turd In My Pocket
Will You Come to the Bower (trad.)

“Pine Island Bayou” started off the show with good energy led by Keith Langford’s snare-heavy train beat and Shinyribs’ quickly chugging mandolin interludes. Most of the beginning of the set maintained this general feel, the train beat steering the band into old-timey bluegrass classics “Darlin’ Corey” and “Dooley” and sorrowful vocal harmonies on the original composition “Lament.”

Jimmy Smith stepped to the microphone for a well-timed change of pace on “When The Money Comes Rolling In” and delivered his strongest vocal performance of the night. Compositionally, this song is rock solid. The intermittent “Call it what you will” responses of the band at distantly spaced harmonies leaves the mid-range for Smith to fill in, and the chorus utilizes one of my favorite melancholy chord sequences—a minor iv to a major I (Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett use it beautifully in the chorus of “Alone”). The song’s conclusion of calling and responding with “You must try!” resounds with the working-class desperation for wealth, revealing the power of lyrical simplicity when accompanied by the right dose of emotion.

Skipping ahead to “El Paso,” Max Johnston showed off some nice fiddle licks while Russell waved waved his arms around in charismatic fashion between mandolin chords. The aesthetic achieved with Johnston on fiddle and Russell on mandolin works well for The Gourds, I think, as their similar styles on banjo and fiddle respectively can sometimes clutter the sound. The smooth fiddle, on the other hand, blends well with a plunky mandolin.

The Gourds handle an Americana rock aesthetic well, too, and they proved as much on “Peppermint City,” though Russell may lack the chops to carry prolonged jams such as the one they went for on “Do 4 U.” When forced by song structure to be succinct, however, Shinyribs can shine on guitar, his solo during “Shreveport” being a prime example from this show.

Overall, what you need to know about any The Gourds show is that it creates an indistinguishable Texas atmosphere. Watching Russell swing his big ‘ol belly around with absurd and hilarious dance moves during “Burn the Honeysuckle,” I felt proud for The Gourds to be one of Austin’s many musical ambassadors. Their music may draw from all over the Deep South, but their attitude is quintessentially Austin. If you can’t make it to The Live Music Capital of the World, just check to see when The Gourds are making their way to you, because it’s basically the next best thing.

© Melodik Mind

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