Last Night: The Gourds At The Granada Theater

The Gourds, Two Tons of Steel, Hosty Duo
Granada Theater
December 30, 2009

Better than: Spending the night before New Year's Eve shelling black-eyed peas with my relatives.

Mike Alves

In its annual pre-New Years Eve concert, The Gourds performed a typically well-played and enthusiastic set of oddball alt-country in front of a thousand or so adoring fans at The Granada last night.

Opening with "Boil My Stings" (from 1997's Stadium Blitzer, quite possibly the band's best effort) The Gourds played songs from throughout its nearly fifteen-year career.

Toward the middle of the set, Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith led the band through a quartet of songs from the yet-to-be-released Haymaker. The well-lubricated audience gave numbers like "Thurman," "Tex Mex Mile" and "Tighter" the same rowdy applause as more familiar chestnuts like "Lower 48" and "Ants on the Melon."

Although written and recorded quickly this past summer, Haymaker is The Gourds' best album in quite some time. The band seemed to switch into a different gear when playing the new songs, getting fast and loose with the gospel tinged "All the Way to Jericho" and the lovely folk ballad "Bridgette."

What's fascinating about the Gourds is how the members communicate non-verbally as they play. Robbie Robertson and The Band once displayed a similar symbiosis as members played unrehearsed solos almost instinctively as if they were reading each other's minds.

Multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Max Johnston (who earned his alt-country credentials in Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt) smoothly incorporated banjo and fiddle into Russell and Smith's wacky narratives while accordion player Claude Bernard added just the right amount of Cajun soul into the whatever tempo presented itself.

It is exactly that kind of familial give-and-take that has allowed The Gourds to remain such a vital force on the alt-country scene well into the band's second decade. That intimate connection extended into the audience last night as well as band and fan smiled and hollered throughout two hours of hillbilly heaven. --Darryl Smyers

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Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: Ever since I first heard the Gourds a decade ago, I've been hopelessly hooked on the band's warped take on Americana. I am a bit more partial to Kevin Russell's tunes, even though Jimmy Smith certainly isn't a slouch in the songwriting department. But it was Russell delivering lines like "I was Rip Van Winkle but I though I was Apollo Creed" who really seemed to connect with the audience.

Random Note: Doors opened at 7:00 and the first act hit the stage at 8:00. I was home just a little after midnight. Lord, I love The Granada. OK, I'm old, but I can't fathom a reason why clubs (especially on a Tuesday night) need to wait until after 8:00 to kick off a show.

By the way: Two great opening acts got the crowd actually warmed up instead of bored and bitter. Norman, Oklahoma's Hosty Duo got things started nicely with a nimble-fingered and humorous set that showed that a guitar/drums duo actually can work. San Antonio's Two Tons of Steel was really a second headliner as the band commanded the crowd to stand up and sing along to keen originals and fascinating hayseed transformations of "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Dazed and Confused." Simply remarkable.

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