By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Baddest of the
When the Bad Livers make their return to the Sons of Hermann Hall January 26--"We're the anti-Springsteen," says Liver multi-instrumentalist Mark Rubin, referring to the other concert that night--they will bring with them as an opening act a former Dallasite whose presence has long been missed around these parts. Kevin Reynolds once fronted a band called Picket Line Coyotes, which you probably don't remember--hence, the reason Reynolds abandoned Dallas for Austin about six years ago.
During the Coyotes' tenure here, they were among the most talented and unheralded acts in town, a top-notch rock band fronted by a man who sang his songs like a gruff storyteller working a comedy club; Reynolds spouted his observations and revelations with a brand of wit and passion not often heard since he moved down south, yet his departure was lamented by a sparse audience. "We lived our lives in obscurity," Reynolds recalls of that period. "That was before alt-rock mania swept the country. It was before Nirvana, before anyone realized they could make money off loud, shitty guitar bands. I just don't think anyone thought they could sell us, and that's always the deal. They'd just as soon get a pretty band they could sell, and we was pretty ugly from what I can remember."
The Coyotes moved to Austin in the late '90s and lasted for another nine months, after which they broke up and Reynolds took "a hiatus and worked and hung out and really didn't do much of nothin'." He played the occasional acoustic gig at Austin's folk asylum Chicago House, then formed a band called the Grackles--"which was good," he insists, "but we never made it out of the living room." From that band sprang Reynolds' current outfit, the Gourds, which is often compared to The Band by those who have witnessed it because of a traditional "folk" sound dependent upon the mandolin, accordion, acoustic guitar, and songs rich in observations and details. "We're much better than any of us anticipated," Reynolds says. "We said at the beginning that we were going to play a bunch of songs and play them as best we can, but actually think we're good."
So does Bad Liver bassist Mark Rubin. It's only appropriate, then, that the Gourds make their local debut opening for the Bad Livers, Austin's reigning neo-traditionalists raised on punk rock, Bill Monroe, and '70s radio. Six years after their formation, the Livers still deny those who'd seek to give them an easy tag: "Bluethrash" makes them out to be the novelty they ain't, "cowpunk" veers away from the authentic middle ground on which they tread, and "ethnomusicologist-rock" obscures the passion with which they play. Even they aren't sure of where they fit in, so easily do they distort the expectations; the band's completed-but-unreleased third album, Hogs on the Highway--which the Livers are currently shopping in search of a new label--has banjo-mandolin player Danny Barnes sporting a Telecaster.
"It even has--dare I say it?--pop songs," Rubin says. "Well, not pop songs, though I could hear them on the radio--although our radios are pretty weird. Man, we're on the asteroids checking in every couple of months."
Bad Livers perform January 26 at the Sons of Hermann Hall. The Gourds open.