[8 July 2008]
Gruene Hall is billed as “Texas’ Oldest Dance Hall”. Originally built around 1880, it has operated continuously, but was truly revived in the mid-‘70s when Pat Molak purchased the Hall and began to resurrect the rest of the tiny town. Today, the whole village of Gruene is preserved on the National Register of Historic Places. A band like Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers fits right in with the down-home feel of Gruene Hall, where the floorboards are warped from a years of use, ads from the 1920’s still sit above the stage, and the audience can stand right next to the stage without any security staff getting in the way.
The show opened with “Wanted”, a set list mainstay dating back to Clyne’s days fronting ‘90s one-hit wonders the Refreshments. Clyne then warned the audience to pace themselves and not get overheated (Gruene Hall has some well-placed fans and is open-air on one side, but there is no air-conditioning) or too drunk, because the band was going to play for a long time. Variations of this announcement seem to pop up early in every show the Peacemakers play, as their sets tend to run close to two-and-a-half hours. Great for fans, maybe not so great for the curious. Indeed, the band was playing to a packed house when they hit the stage shortly after 10 pm, but 90 minutes later had lost about a third of the audience. And this was a Saturday night, to boot.
The show itself was typically high-energy, both from the band and the audience. Clyne and company always draw a diverse crowd. This show had middle-aged cowboys, twentysomething hipsters, and even a mom celebrating her birthday with her husband, sister, and two teenaged daughters. The Peacemakers change up their set every night, but certain songs always seem to pop up during the show. “Counterclockwise” and “I Don’t Need Another Thrill”, both upbeat tunes from 2004’s ¡Americano!, are typical crowd-pleasers, but songs from the Refreshments’ debut album Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy always seem to get the biggest reaction. “Mexico” featured a full audience sing-along with Clyne donning a huge sombrero, while the appearance of “Banditos”, the Refreshments’ aforementioned one hit, got the biggest cheer of the night. At the other end of the spectrum, the tender ballad “Green and Dumb” inspired couples to slow-dance.
Clyne’s onstage presence was a combination of intensity and gregariousness. He spent most of the show passionately singing and looking like he was having a great time. His exchanges with the audience were conversational and appreciative, and he actually encourages requests from the crowd, although they only accepted one (Americano’s “Your Name on a Grain of Rice”) at this show. He also knows when to let lead guitarist Steve Larson step into the spotlight. Larson’s solos varied wildly from song to song, from the reverb-drenched reggae of “Bottom of the Bay” to his approximation of both the guitar and keyboard parts on a cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”. Bassist Nick Scropos was steady and solid all night, while drummer P.H. Naffah added interesting percussion flourishes throughout the set without being flashy and contributed the bulk of the backing vocals.
With a new album, Turbo Ocho, out in the past few months, many of the songs from that record were worked into the show. The dark rocker “State of the Art” fared particularly well live, as did the joyous “I Do” with its chorus declaring, “Baby I do love rock and roll”. The highlight of the Ocho tunes, though, was “Mañana”, with its easy sing-along, laid-back tempo, and Peacemakers merch guy Jason Boots showing up onstage to play trumpet. True to form, the band played for about two-and-a-half hours, wrapping things up just after 12:30 am with a three-song encore. Clyne sincerely thanked us for coming and said they’d be talking to the Gruene Hall management about coming back for a two-night weekend stand before the end of the year. Great news for those of us who want to hear some of the songs that don’t seem to show up in a normal Peacemakers shows.