Gourds – Fowler’s (Durham, NC)
“I can’t think of another band that creates as much of a commotion without an electric guitar,” a friend is fond of saying. It’s hard to gauge whether the Gourds could have out-commotioned the train that roared by Fowler’s Gourmet Store a couple of songs into opener Mike Nicolai’s set on this night. But this we know: The train never came back through. Chickenshit.
The Gourds were tucked in the back corner of the outdoor deck at Fowler’s, putting them at roughly the same altitude as the train tracks atop the little hill across the street. Driven by their hobo stew of styles and inspirations, from gospel to Cajun and from Doug Sahm to the Minutemen, Gourds shows have always felt a little like liquored-up and loose back-porch pickin’ parties. Thus, if you thought of the deck as one heckuva big back porch, the configuration made a lot of sense.
The area directly in front of the band was claimed by a throng before the band wandered up to their mikes, forcing some folks who had settled in on lawn chairs to surrender a little acreage. Not to get all metaphysical, especially when describing a band as Average Joe (in demeanor, that is, not ability) as the Gourds, but their relationship with the faithful appears to represent one of those endless cycles. The band’s energy and joy and Band-style carnival-soul feeds the crowd, and the crowd gives it right back. And on and on.
I mostly hung back by the washtub of High Life and Dead Guy Ale at the opposite end of the deck and let the songs find me. They did, from the free-range gospel of “Hallelujah Shine”, to its partner in praise, “Ghosts Of Hallelujah”, to the particularly Pogues-ish “Whiskey And Blood”, to one of my Dem’s Good Beeble favorites, “All The Labor”.
In one particularly stirring moment, Max Johnston’s fiddle cut brazenly through the downtown Durham air, a much more welcome sound than that produced by a hurtling Amtrak. The entire deck, as well as the adjoining parking lot, was turning into a dance floor, with people swaying on the steps, on a loading dock, and even behind the band. And at that point, I was dangerously close to creating some commotion of my own, even without any rhythm.