The other weekend we decided not to go up to Maine and so had a chance to head out to the Bull Run and catch The Flatlanders. We were able to get good seats at the last minute … the table right next to the right-hand corner of the stage … even though it was pretty much sold out. Got there in plenty of time for a nice dinner first.
The Nashua River Rats opened, with Johnny Girouard singing and playing guitar, Ron Gagnon on standup bass, Jack O'Brien on banjo and mandolin, and Greg Secino on drums. This was one of those totally unexpected and totally satisfying opening acts. They opened with Flowers On the Wall and their set included Going Down the Road Feeling Bad (the first “Grateful Dead” song of the night), Rowan’s Midnight Moonlight, an excellent cover of Tyson’s Someday Soon, and Lightfoot’s Redwood Hill. Girouard really did some great singing, and Gagnon amazed us all with the sounds he could get out of his bass … I wish we were closer to see how he did it.
Then a break and then Joe, Jimmie, Butch, and their band came on and just ripped the place up. Their long-time guitarist Robbie Gjersoe was in top form and Pat Manske on drums and Jimmy Pettit on bass were not far behind! OK, time for some bullet points:
- One of my strongest impressions was that Butch Hancock just exudes cowboy poetry; I hadn't seen him before and he amazed me in so many ways. I've heard him on record many times, particularly with Jimmie and Joe, but the effortless way he could sing his incredible songs and the richness of his small guitar were a delight.
- Jimmie is excellent of course but has lost a bit off his fastball. On the original Flatlanders record, on his 2000 masterpiece, One Endless Night, and on the Flatlanders’ 2004 Wheels Of Fortune, Jimmie sings with a tremolo and a quality that can’t be beat, but he was not singing up to that level on Friday.
- Of course, Jimmie is still great and though Butch tried to steal the show the best musical moments of the night were when Joe sang harmony to Jimmie’s lead. This was just magic!
- And if Butch exudes “poet” and Jimmie exudes talent, the guy exuding the superstar vibes was Joe Ely. If you haven’t heard him, I don’t know how to describe the star quality and the authenticity this guy carries with him at the same time. One of their first songs was his Not That Much Has Changed and this was a showstopper.
- Excellent back-up band! It’s hard to call Gjersoe a back-up guy when he’s so vital to their sound.
They traded tunes around, mixing up their individual songs with some great arrangements, throwing verses back and forth like they’d been playing together for 40 years. Highlights of the show included:
- an inspired version of Dallas that Jimmie introduced as a showcase of how you could play the song; it started off like it was right off their early record, morphed into Joe Ely’s solo version, and then drifted into something quite different
- a beautiful Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown and Rose From the Mountain that sounded as old as the hills
- an incredible straight-ahead cover of Sitting On Top Of the World; it was only when I heard this version that I realized that the millions of covers I’d heard before were all done with a little wink, a little sarcasm: from the Dead’s acid-drenched cover, to Doc Watson’ sly meander, to David Bromberg’s acerbic blues; this was straight-up Texas music and I was finally convinced that they really were sitting on top of the world and loving it!
The boys were tired but came out for a two-song encore, then faded away into the sweet night. I think they really liked the ear-splitting reception they got from the Massachusetts crowd and I hope they come back.