The Gourds, Doyle Bramhall Sr. Miller Outdoor Theatre July 22, 2011
It was all Texas big beat Friday night as old-school Austin blues-rocker Doyle Bramhall Sr. and those funny, funny Gourds cut a groove in the Miller Outdoor Theatre stage.
Bramhall, a key vocal influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan, brought along a secret weapon in his compact threesome: Longtime Austin roots rock veteran Casper Rawls, who pulled yeoman's duty on rhythm and lead guitar with the flair and aplomb of someone who played with Buck Owens back in the day after Don Rich's untimely death.
And while Bramhall steered the ship, tom-tomming away behind his microphone, Aftermatth couldn't help but feel like a fourth instrument - another guitar, or perhaps a keyboard - would've added both power and depth to the set. Still, as Texas power trios go, this is probably as good as we're ever likely to get.
The Gourds, fresh off sessions for their new album Old Mad Joy, took the stage as the last vestiges of twilight faded and breezes swept across the theater, cooling the crowd. But it was immediately apparent that the band hadn't come to cool anything off, exhibiting something of a newfound freshness and energy as they rocked off into the outer spheres with Jimmy Smith's "All the Labor" like they couldn't wait to get out of the dressing room and in front of an adoring crowd.
Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell followed with a release of his gospel-ish bent on "Hallelujah Shine," and it was definitely on as the band quickly burned through "LGO," "My Name Is Jorge" and a smokin' version of "Lower 48" ("married my cousin in Arkansas/ Married two more when I got to Utah").
Demonstrating the newfound vocal diversity that the band has professed Bob Dylan/Levon Helm producer Larry Campbell drug out of them during sessions for the new album in Woodstock, N.Y., the band proceeded to pass vocal duties around to everyone but drummer Keith Langford, who is almost too busy with his polyphonics to take time to sing lead vocals.
And as per the usual Gourds playbook, there was all sorts of instrument-switching, even to the point of keyboardist/sometimes rhythm guitarist Claude Bernard playing electric lead for one tune. As always, multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, banjo, fiddle, rhythm guitar) Max Johnston turned in an understated lesson in roots-rock virtuosity.
The always-playful band that turned the roots-rock world on its head when it first began covering Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" - these days the most requested song in their repertoire - threw some new brain-teaser twists on the crowd as they segued from "Grievin' and Smokin' into ZZ Top's "TV Dinners" and back. But they saved the big surprise for the finale, romping through the by-now almost mandatory "Gin and Juice" into Sam Cooke's beautiful "Cupid" and finally into Cee-Lo Green's monster hit "Fuck You."
It was surprising, yet so typical of those who follow these Austin wackos.
The overall impression? The Gourds have been lifting their musical weights and taking their steroids faithfully. Don't be surprised if they hit 80 home runs this year as they tour hard behind what will likely be the most important album of their storied career.
Personal Bias: A tiny nit-pick: Max Johnston has become such a good banjo picker, maybe the Gourds should spotlight him a bit more?
The Crowd: Middle-aged to upward. No one left Miller and bolted for Washington Avenue or Warehouse Live. And these people came to listen, not talk. Maybe there's a trend here: No cover = less talking; $35 ticket = talk instead of listen?
Overheard In the Crowd: "I didn't bring much. I've got apples, oranges, beer, and tequila. Whatchya want?"
Random Notebook Dump: Why is there always some doofus middle-aged party animal who just has to stand up and get his groove on in the midsection of the Miller seated area, blocking the view of a good 50 people? Grab a clue, buddy. The rest of us want to sit down - that's why we got in line for tickets to the seated area.
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GOURDS SET LIST
All the Labor Hallelujah Shine LGO My Name is Jorge Lower 48 Do 4 U/Midnight Rider (Allman Brothers cover)/ Do 4 U Drop What I'm Doing Hellhounds Jesus Christ with Signs Following The Tinys Variety Hour Everybody's Missing the Sun God's House (The New Way of) Grievin' & Smokin'/ TV Dinners (ZZ Top cover) Pickles Pine Island Bayou Mister Betty Gin & Juice (Snoop Dogg cover)/ Cupid (Sam Cooke cover)/ Fuck You (Cee-Lo Green cover)/ Gin & Juice