Giant Sand at Union Chapel (London, UK – June 2, 2015)
Union Chapel at the top of Islington’s Upper Street, near to Highbury Corner in North London, is a working Unitarian chapel as well as being one of London’s finest music venues. On a long June evening where the weather has alternated between sun and heavy rain, the light streams in through the stained glass, illuminating the pews and balcony as well as the stage where Giant Sand is hosting a special evening of music.
At 7:40 Howe Gelb steps on to the stage and introduces the first of several cameos by members of the current incarnation of Giant Sand. First up is Brian Lopez who performs solo with acoustic guitar. He’s from Tucson and plays a song about the rain in the desert.
Next comes Gabriel O Sullivan, also from Tucson, whose song is addressed to someone who will break his heart.
Lonna Beth Kelley from Phoenix is the third act – she’s not quite ready, so Howe provides a piano interlude.
Finally Maggie Bjorklund takes up her stool at the pedal steel and leads what is now basically Giant Sand through a gorgeous instrumental. Now Mr Gelb steps up front and the Giant Sand set proper begins. He struggles with his guitar strap before announcing as it’s a formal occasion he’ll go strapless.
Starting with “The Eye Opening,” the band moves through “Song So Wrong” and “Every Now and Then” from Heartbreak Pass before turning in the night’s first oldie — a rocking “Solomon’s Ride” from Center of the Universe.
At this point, we’re joined by the evening’s first guests, The Psycho Sisters, for the wistful road song “Home Sweat Home.” The Psycho Sisters – who comprise Susan Cowsill (of the Cowsills) and Vicky Petersen from The Bangles, sisters-in-law in real life – do a short set of their own with three tracks from last year’s crowd-funded debut album Up on the Chair Beatrice: “Gone Fishin’,” “Never Never Boys,” and “Fun To Lie.”
Giant Sand resumes with three band songs including “Lost Love” from the excellent Tucson album. The band is then joined by Lonna Beth Kelley, while Howe switches to piano for a couple of duets, the highlight of which is a sweet take of “Gypsy Candle,” off the new record.
The full band then launches into a mighty “Chunk of Coal,” from Blurry Blue Mountain.
Howe’s in great spirits and the band is superb – the two guitar players are openers Lopez and O’Sullivan, with the mighty Maggie Bjorklund on pedal steel, and the Danish rhythm section of Theger Lund on bass and Peter Dombernowsky on drums. That’s a 50:50 Arizona:Denmark ratio in the band, which parallels the Gelb family.
Gelb introduces the next guests, The Common Linnets from the Netherlands. I heard a reference to Eurovision and, checking back when I got home, it turns out they came second in the 2014 Song Contest (Americans can find out about this here). The Common Linnets are a harmony-based country rock band, stripped down this evening to a front three led by their own Howe Gelb in the form of Ilse Delange. Their Eurovision tune (“Calm after the Storm”) opens the set, preceded by a first two-line acapella rendition from our MC. It’s followed by three more songs, and the set finishes with a rocking “You Should Know Better Than That.”
After an electro waltz from Giant Sand, Lonna Beth returns to join Gelb on “Forever and Always.” That song was a co-write with his daughter and Gelb pere is concerned that after a false start or two on the lyrics, she will hear a tape of the show and he’ll be in the kennel.
The full band, along with the Psycho Sisters, rocks out the remainder of the set which runs through a powerful “Transponder” and closes with “Heaventually” / “Texting Feist.”
Curfew beckons and Gelb substitutes a two-song encore for a pointless round trip to the dressing room. The entire ensemble is up on the stage finally taking it home with a massive “Tumble and Tear” from the Valley Of Rain album. It’s 10:25 and the show has been non-stop. 2 ¾ hours on a wooden pew, as well as a superb evening’s music, see Giant Sand and friends given a well-deserved standing ovation.
This was something of a one-off show so hopefully a few excerpts will make their way on to YouTube. In the meantime this is them near Barcelona last week.