The Gourds: Don’t Call It A Breakup

Beloved Austin pranksters hit pause on 19 years

“Hiatus! Hiatus!” The Gourds Sunday night at Threadgill’s World Headquarters.
“Hiatus! Hiatus!” The Gourds Sunday night at Threadgill’s World Headquarters. (by John Anderson)

It proved all too easy to get a little melancholy while watching the Gourds perform what they termed a “hiatus” show at Threadgill’s World Headquarters last night, especially as I reflected on how they’ve been part of the landscape of my life as an Austinite since the mid Nineties.

Over the past decade, I’ve experienced Gourds performances while surrounded by rowdy frat boys at the now-defunct Alligator Grill (one of my first dates with my now-husband) and while drinking a margarita on the patio at Shady Grove. Most recently, it was among dozens of neighborhood families at my son’s elementary school as part of its annual spring fundraiser.

And yet, until Sunday at Threadgill’s, I don’t think I quite comprehended to what extent, both culturally and within the community, that the Gourds are entrenched in Austin’s ecosystem.

That truth was brought into relief last night as more than 700 people from across the country stuffed themselves into the front yard of the Riverside restaurant and venue while countless others watched the show as it was live-streamed online. All basked in the pure joy of seeing the beloved local quintet one last time before they mosey off into the sunset – maybe for good, maybe not.

In a set spanning three hours with one short break, frontmen Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith, instrumentalists Max Johnston and Claude Bernard, and drummer Keith Langford treated the throng to a jubilant, sometimes sloppy (but never messy) tour through a goodly chunk of the band’s catalog, from 1996’s Dem’s Good Beeble to 2011’s Old Mad Joy, sometimes pulling friends from the audience and the sidelines to join in on vocals or guitar.

“Sorry, this was just a drunk Facebook post that got out of hand,” joked Russel at one point. “We’re gonna do this every month!”

Interspersed through the epic set were tributes to Lou Reed, along with greetings to friends watching online, onstage banter about the breakup/hiatus, reflections on spending 19 years with fans, and thanks to the wives and children who’ve supported the five men along the way. There seemed to be no animosity among the players, although Bernard repeatedly referred to the looming silence as a breakup, only to pointedly correct himself by loudly declaring, “Hiatus! Hiatus!”

Even though the Gourds won’t be performing as the Gourds for the foreseeable future, the bandmembers won’t be going away. Russell, with Langford on skins, now enjoys increasing traction for Shinyribs; Smith and Bernard have formed the Hard Pans; and Johnston has a solo project featuring Smith and Bernard coming down the pike. On top of that, Gourds-focused documentary All the Labor will soon be in limited theatrical release and available on DVD on November 19.

So long for now, Gourds. Thanks for the music and memories.

Partial set-list from 10.27.13:

“Nuevo Laredo”
“Web Before You Walk Into It”
“Jesus Christ With Signs”
“Everybody’s Missing the Sun”
“My Name is Jorge”
“Clear Night”
“Hooky Junk”
“I Like Drinking”
“Grievin’ & Smokin’”
“Country Love”
“Lower 48”
“I Ate the Haggis”
“Flavor On the Tongue”
“How Will U Shine”
“Up On High”
“I Come Up”
“All the Labor”
“El Paso”
“All In the Pack
“Gin and Juice

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More Gourds
Rock & Roll DVDs
All the Labor
All the Labor (Record Review)

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 13, 2013

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Gourds, Threadgill's World Headquarters, Kevin Russell, Jimmy Smith, Max Johnston, Claude Bernard, Keith Langford, Lou Reed

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