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Throughout the ‘90s, a wave of bands inundated college radio under the popular brand name alt-country. That a sizeable percentage of those bands played a stylized bastardization of country music seemed to bother fans of the so-called genre not at all, which isn’t surprising considering the enthusiasm with which those same fans will embrace a trend if the overlords of commercial journalism push it hard enough. Anyone who thinks that the independent music scene isn’t driven by image is living in a dream world. As evidence, I present the blasphemous lack of appreciation given to the Gourds.
The Gourds are most famous for transforming Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” into a howlingly funny and sonically delicious bluegrass romp. But they should really be known for their live show, which I was fortunate enough to catch as it passed through Bloomington, Indiana.
22 Mar 2003: The Vertigo Bloomington, Indiana
I’d never seen The Gourds before, so when they took the makeshift stage at a converted industrial garage called the Vertigo, I understood somewhat why they are commercially ignored: they’re quintessential pasty white boys. If that doesn’t remove any possibility for marketability altogether, their utter indifference to fashion does. This much is certain: the members of the Gourds would blend in better in the automotive department of Wal-Mart than at a Clear Channel-sanctioned summer stage tour. The Gourds are probably an A&R rep’s worst nightmare, but as far as I’m concerned they’re a welcome change from all the gangly, calculatedly meek indie boys who for some mysterious reason fucking dominate college rock. And while we’re on the topic, would somebody please get those sullen bastards some pork chops and a few shots of whiskey and initiate them into manhood already?
Anyway, The Gourds democratically arranged themselves on stage in a straight line facing the audience, and immediately commenced to making glorious, shit-kicking noise. With mandolin, guitar, bass, drum kit, banjo, dobro, harmonica, accordion, and an assload of longnecks and cigarettes, they merrily raised the Vertigo’s roof, all the while smiling, drinking, and just generally exuding a lovable, let’s-fucking-party attitude.
I should confess that I own no Gourds albums, and therefore can’t rattle off song titles from the set list (I do know they neglected to play “Hallelujah Shine” despite my ardent yelling from the balcony). But one of the biggest compliments that I can give the Gourds is that familiarity with their songs is not a prerequisite for enjoying them live. They play their bluegrass-based rock and roll without an iota of irony or seriousness, which makes them somewhat of an anomaly in the indie scene. The purpose behind their playing is to do no more than to fucking have fun.
If that makes them sound too jam-bandish, I’ve misled you; Phish or Leftover Salmon they most definitely are not. Rather than playing distended wankfests that invoke the godawful word “boogie”, the Gourds play an unrefined amalgamation of Kentucky bluegrass, joyous southern rock, and weirded-out, Tom Waits-like folk shit. Trust me on this one: Go see them, fashion be damned. Even if you are the type that typically prefers your music performed by undernourished sad sacks, you’ll be so electrified by the energy of the Gourds that it won’t even matter.