Gourds – The Brewery (Raleigh, NC)
Here’s where it’s tough for a band — playing for a crowd numbering in the low 20s on a Wednesday night in Raleigh. To the Gourds’ everlasting credit, they didn’t do this show on automatic pilot. In fact, what could have been a disheartening evening turned out to be a darned fine experience.
Extensive touring in the year since the release of their debut album Dem’s Good Beeble has tightened up this Austin-based foursome immeasurably, to the point that they’re well beyond the album now. Though pleasant enough, Dem’s Good Beeble really doesn’t convey just how skillfully the Gourds can throw down The Funk live.
Few bands of this ilk boast a bottom end as solid-yet-fluid as the Gourds’ rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Smith and drummer Charlie Llewellin. (That being the case, it’s a shame to hear Llewellin left the band shortly after this tour concluded.) The best parts of the set came when Smith put down his acoustic guitar, picked up his electric bass and stoked the groove. Llewellin’s nifty brush work also kept things moving along at a brisk pace.
Even better was Claude Bernard’s accordion, which gave the Gourds the feel of a Cajun jug band along the lines of the Subdudes. Throw in frontman Kevin Russell’s mandolin jangle, throaty yowl and ragged-but-right vocal harmonies with Smith, and their sonic blueprint was an appealing take on folksy acoustic pop. Nothing radical, but exceedingly well-done. They threw out one terrific song after another, including the set-opening “Piss & Moan Blues”, “Caledonia” and Central American-flavored “Honduras”.
As the clock approached the 2 a.m. closing time, there were only 12 people left on the dance floor. They were rewarded with an extended funk vamp, propulsively rendered with enough good-natured snap to get over to a crowd a hundred times bigger. There wasn’t a single backside in the crowd that was not in motion by then.
See, parties don’t always have to be crowded to be good.