Despite logistical and personnel complications, local legends El Gato nailed a rare Thursday night appearance so well that it reinforced questions of why the formerly Denton-based band wasn't headlining a Saturday show instead. It shouldn't have been this good--band manager Kirk Dixon replaced longtime bassist/keyboardist Evan Hisey not too long ago, and songwriter John Vineyard lives in San Diego now, yet in spite of those potential hurdles, the group sounded like they'd been practicing for this gig for weeks. With their rhythm section pounding notes so hard that CPR chest compressions would have been rendered unnecessary, the band interwove songs from their 2002 headphones masterpiece We're Birds with several new tracks, and like their established hits, the melodies of El Gato's new tunes were imbued with a strange familiarity--like you should be singing along even during a first-time listen--as keyboards and twin guitars overloaded the speakers.
New songs like "Wild Turkey" veered closer to hard-rock territory with simple melodies devolving into frantic feedback squalls, while a slower new tune Vineyard described as a "folk song about helping out a friend who needs you, except he doesn't know he needs you" added range to the set list with gently brushed drums and dark, jazzy electric piano sounds. On older songs, the guitars were louder and fuzzier, especially on the night's climax--a thunderous version of "Pianos on Crutches" underpinned by organ sounds from Dixon's keyboard distorted almost beyond recognition. During that song, a man in the audience with a broken foot, having no beer to salute the band, raised his crutch in the air instead. I hope that guy didn't injure himself just for an excuse to pay tribute to the song title.
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The rest of the night was rounded out with solid local talent--openers I Love Math played a few of John Dufilho's more country-leaning pop gems, and Salim Nourallah again proved himself among the most dependable live acts in town with a typically excellent performance. But it was El Gato's new stuff, and the promise of a new album (songs are already being recorded, and the disc could be out as soon as January 2006), that made me want to tear up Vineyard's return tickets to San Diego.