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SOLD OUT: Gourds 'Last Stomp' Sunday at Threadgill’s

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Michael Corcoran

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 25, 2013

Oh, mama, can this really be the end? “Austin’s best band,” the Gourds, are calling it quits, for an indefinite period of time, after tonight’s Threadgill’s show. My guess is that they won’t play again until the wedding of one of their kids  and most of them are under 10.

In the past year, the band’s members have been busy with other concerns, with co-leaders Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith focusing more on side projects, Shinyribs and the Hard Pans, respectively. Fiddler Max Johnston’s move to Dallas to oversee his family’s real estate holdings also didn’t help. Multi-instrumentalist Claude Bernard is in the Hard Pans, while drummer Keith Langford is a member of Shinyribs.

But why stop altogether? The Gourds command upwards of $5,000 to play weddings and private parties. “Garden variety creative differences,” replied Russell, whose more traditional honky tonk stylings rotated with Smith’s quirkier songs in concert and on albums. The jarring differences delighted the more adventurous Gourds fans, but were a detraction to others who preferred one frontman to the other.

The hiatus could also be that the members got sick of hearing shouted requests for “Gin and Juice,” the Appalachian stomp on a rap classic, which has garnered nearly two million plays on YouTube. The Gourds are known for pulling out unlikely covers- Jethro Tull one night and Michael Jackson the next but the Snoop Dogg cover devours them all. It’ll be interesting to see if they play it Sunday.

Beaumont native Russell and Smith of Plano moved to Austin in the early ’90s as members of Picket Line Coyotes, who sounded more like “Armed Forces” era Elvis Costello than the mandolin-driven music they would make in Austin. The Gourds’ 1996 debut “Dem’s Good Beeble” established them as Austin’s answer to The Band, with songcraft blooming in the black soil of Delta land.

On record, the band’s peak was probably 2000’s “Bolsa de Agua,” with it’s KGSR heavy-spinner “El Paso,” and 2001’s “Shinebox,” featuring “Gin and Juice,” but also Smith’s romping “Plaid Coat” and Russell’s hypocrisy-slapping “Lament.”

Their latest album was 2011’s “Mad Joy,” which took the band full circle when they recorded it at Levon Helm of The Band’s studio in Woodstock, NY. At SXSW 2013, filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis premiered “All the Labor,” his full-length documentary on the band, who are actually as popular in Wyoming and Montana, where much of the live footage was taken, than in their home state. Yes, folks are flying in from the Rockies, as well as other regions of the country to see their favorite live act for, perhaps, the last time.

As good as the DVD is, it’s no match for the musical memories the Gourds have made through the years. So many for me, but a couple stand out. First, the Gourds and the Damnations, their sister act, doing a ragged and right version of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Bob Dylan on New Year’s Eve 1998 (I think) at Stubb’s. Second, their slowed-down and groove-thickened version of the Allmans’ “Ramblin’ Man” at Antone’s circa 2003.

Let’s hear from you: What are the moments you remember best from past Gourds shows? And yay or nay on playing “Gin and Juice Sunday night?

NOTE: The Gourds show at Threadgill’s has just sold out. Also, the blog has been changed to reflect that most of the live footage from the documentary was filmed in Montana.

The Gourds “Last Stomp” is at 7 p.m. Sunday at Threadgill’s. 301 W. Riverside Dr.