Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Flatlanders at Castle Clinton, NYC 8/2/07

Their time finally came almost thirty years after they started, as twangy rock posing as country finally pushed traditional country (or what was left of it) over the edge, into the chasm where dead musical genres go, down there with roots reggae and dixieland and punk. But for these guys it was never a pose: they always were and still remain a country-rock band. That term has become almost an insult, and perhaps rightfully so, but these Lubbock, Texas vets, darlings of the NPR set, actually make it work. Although the show wasn’t quite the ruckus they typically raise indoors, late at night, there were many absolutely delightful moments.

The three frontmen, all of who played acoustic guitar and sang spot-on harmonies, brought their distinctive personalities to the set. Joe Ely is the Tex-Mex guy with a thing for mariachi melodies; Jimmie Dale Gilmore is the Willie Nelson-style crooner, and Butch Hancock brings the corn. This unit brings out the very best in each of them: Ely manages to stay pretty much on this side of the border, Gilmore’s hippie streak is held firmly in check, and Hancock’s buffoonery is kept pretty much to a minimum. Bolstered by an effortlessly tight rhythm section and a fine lead guitarist, the trio mixed newer material into the set along with familiar crowd-pleasers such as Dallas, swinging along on a boogie beat.

It’s too bad the Flatlanders haven’t had more hits, because their best songs are very, very catchy. The highlight of the night was Julia, a gorgeously rueful midtempo ballad sung by Ely: When the first chorus ended, all three acoustic guitars chiming in unison as the lead player sprinkled some magically clanging notes around them, the crescendo was literally breathtaking. They didn’t hit that kind of high again, but they didn’t really shoot for it: these vets know how to size up a crowd – this one was definitely older, mostly tourists from the looks of them, with a small but vocal Texas contingent – so they played it pretty safe.

With one exception. Midway through the set, Gilmore assured the crowd that “not all Texans agree with other Texans,” and received a very warm response. “He’s not from Texas!” yelled someone in the crowd. “Who’s he?” joked Hancock. This band may not write political songs, but like the best country musicians, they’re populist through and through. After about an hour worth of consistently tasty twang, they wrapped up their first encore with a fiery number told from the point of view of a driver who picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Jesus. Mr. Christ lets him drink a beer with impunity but eventually puts a gun to the guy’s head and then steals the car. No doubt the band would have done more like this had this been later in the evening, with alcohol flowing in abundance.

Afterward we went up to Banjo Jim’s to continue the festivities. After a lengthy setup, Ray Suarez lookalike Joe Whyte and his band took the stage, Whyte telling the audience how he’d had a dream in which he’d punched George Bush in the face. This met with a very enthusiastic reception. Too bad the music that followed was so sterile, generic suburban janglepop with a few country licks thrown in here and there: a New Jersey version of Counting Crows, maybe. One of our entourage noted that the following band, a trio from Philadelphia, sounded like the Black Crowes (this show was for the birds, hardy har har). I saw the Black Crowes open for someone once but they were so forgettable, I can’t remember what they sounded like: a tuneless version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, maybe? At this point, we’d finally had our fill and the evening had cooled off a little bit, so we hit the pavement and called it a night.

August 3, 2007 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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