Flatlanders – Backyard (Austin, TX)
Often referred to as more a legend than a band, The Flatlanders — Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock — have, for the last two years, built upon that legend. Reuniting to record a song for the soundtrack to The Horse Whisperer, the three amigos have since performed together on numerous occasions, written an album’s worth of new songs, and have plans for a new album. On this night at the Backyard, they created music that was both regional in capturing the dust and expansive vistas of West Texas, and universal in showing the weary tenacity of the outsider.
Opening with the driving roadhouse of Ely’s “I Had My Hopes Up High”, the Flatlanders remained true to the pure acoustic sound of their sole 1972 album. Though the trio was supported by a rhythm section, the sound was open and honest, allowing the words and harmonies to stand out. On songs such as “Hello Stranger” and “Keeper Of The Mountain,” call-and-response vocals reinforced specific lines in a rich interplay.
On a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowin’ On Raton” and new songs such as “Julia” and “Melon Moon”, they supported each other in wonderful three-part harmony. All three of their voices have aged into wonderful instruments that served the material well. Ely’s muscular approach was featured on more rocking numbers such as “Hopes”, “I Thought The Wreck Was Over”, and Terry Allen’s “Gimme A Ride To Heaven Boy”. Gilmore’s tremulous warble was particularly fine on the aforementioned songs “Keeper” and “Julia”. And on Hancock’s classic song of restlessness, “One Road More”, the author’s dusty voice reinforced the road-weary lyrics. Serendipitously accentuating the moment, a strong wind blowing across the stage gently rattled in the microphones.
With their obvious ease at playing with one another, the Flatlanders behaved as though they were sitting in their own backyard, rather than the couple-thousand-capacity Backyard. Gilmore, Ely and Hancock told stories that poked fun at one another while letting the audience see what has been developing with the Flatlanders over the past two years. Gilmore explained that “for 30 years our songwriting output together has totaled about one-and-a-half. In the last year or so we’ve done that tenfold.”
At the end of the night, as Ely introduced Gilmore, Hancock and the backing band, he emphatically stated, “We are the Flatlanders,” making it clear that they are once again not a legend, but a band.