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James McMurtry / The Gourds
Shank Hall
Milwaukee, WI
November 11, 2012
James McMurtry
James McMurtry
James McMurtry
James McMurtry

Review and photos by Jennifer Bronenkant

James McMurtry returned to Shank Hall for the second time this year Sunday night. His visit last Spring was solo acoustic but this time he brought along his band for the electric version of his live show. His bassist Ronnie Johnson has left to spend time with his new family after 16 years with McMurtry. His replacement goes by the name of Cornbread. Drummer Darren Hess continues to keep the beat for the band.

Whether performing solo or with the band, McMurtry's uncompromising lyrics still steal the show. The stories are honest and compelling. Whether a listener can personally connect with the experiences of characters or not, the range of base emotions are timelessly universal and compelling. These are tales of everyday existence and struggles told without romanticizing. Lyrics fearlessly pose questions without presuming to answer any of them. It's all very real, just observations but not without hope and usually with an upbeat rhythm.

Many of the songs deal with life at it's essence though not necessarily McMurtry's own experience but with quirky characters dealing with feelings we can all understand. For instance on this night he sang "Just Us Kids" that speaks to how quickly life goes from the teens to middle age with the lyric "It's a damn short movie/How'd we ever get here." Anyone who has reached midlife can certainly relate to the sentiment. "Hurricane Party" speaks to loneliness and desolation. Mixed in with these tales was his greatest hit and critically acclaimed "We Can't Make It Here," a scolding indictment of what the greed of the powerful of this country has done to its people. For just plain old good fun, he sang about a family reunion in "Choctaw Bingo" with a beat that insists all listeners break out into dance.

A McMurtry show, whether solo or with the band, is a journey through a shared existence of American life.

Sharing the bill with McMurtry was Austin based The Gourds who despite almost 20 years as a band have yet to garner mainstream success. It was clear as the room thinned out before their set that the crowd had been there primarily for McMurtry. Those who left early missed out on a real party.

The Gourds mix of roots/Americana/blue grass/rock/bayou among other music influences makes them impossible to fit into a neat classification. Long recognized as an act that must be seen live, their shows are nothing short of joyful frenzy. Co-lead singer Kevin Russell lead the party with his contagious smile and constant dance giving the feel of a great night on the bayou. The set contained several songs off of their most recent release aptly titled "Old Mad Joy" including "I Want It So Bad," "Eyes Of A Child," "Your Benefit," and "You Must Not Know." The rest of the set was an eclectic mix of originals like "Hooky Junk," "Lower 48" and "Burn The Honeysuckle" along with an even more varied mix of covers and samples. The band put their own rootsy spin on covers as diverse as Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London" and Doobie Brothers "Black Water." They even threw in an Irish jig with "Waxie's Dargle."

McMurtry and band joined the Gourds for the finale which featured their manic cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin And Juice." The band wove samples of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and Beatles "I've Got A Feeling" into Snoop's song for a wonderfully crazy musical celebration.

Related articles:

James McMurtry / Dana Erlandson - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI March 2012

Set Lists:
James McMurtry Set List:
Bayou Tortue
Red Dress
What's The Matter Now?
Just Us Kids
How Am I Going To Find You Now?
Hurricane Party
You'd A Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)
Choctaw Bingo
We Can't Make it Here
Too Long In The Wasteland
The Gourds Set List (partial):
Hooky Junk
Country Love
Ladies Choice
Eyes Of A Child
I Want It So Bad
Mister Betty
You Must Not Know
Werewolves of London
Waxie's Dargle
Lower 48
Jenny Brown
Your Benefit
Burn The Honeysuckle
Black Water
You Ain't Going Nowhere
Gin and Juice

James McMurtry
James McMurtry
The Gourds
The Gourds
The Gourds
The Gourds
James McMurtry
James McMurtry
James McMurtry
James McMurtry
The Gourds
The Gourds
The Gourds
The Gourds
The Gourds
The Gourds

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