James McMurtry & the Gourds - September 18, 2012 - The Neptune"/>
Last night at the Neptune , this lyric appeared during a Gourds cover>"/>
"I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Hattie's Hat."
Last night at the Neptune, this lyric appeared during a Gourds cover of Warren Zevon's best-known song. It was meant in jest, a wink to a popular hangout near the Tractor Tavern, where the Gourds typically play. But as someone who lived directly across the street from both venues in the late '90s, back when Ballard was wild and Russia was free, I can assure you that such a hirsute boozing scenario is not that far-fetched.
It's tough to follow the Gourds, an Austin band of bandoleros for whom releasing studio albums is utterly beside the point. Far more melodic than they're given credit for, they're born headliners. Yet last night, they opened for James McMurtry, which made it difficult to be James McMurtry.
First, a mild critique. The Neptune is one of the great repurposed movie houses in America, and its rechristened use as a live music venue is a gift. But while I'm generally supportive of all-ages shows, when you've got a couple Texan acts whose bandmembers are in their fifties, the odds of attracting tweens are diminished slightly, to put it kindly. Hence, barring liquor from the front of the stage makes about as much sense as Mitt Romney writing off the 47 percent.
Now, on with the show. The stoic McMurtry has never been a master of banter, and the old cinema has a cruel knack for muffling words if they're spoken instead of sung. Realizing this, James and his two partners jammed their way through a dynamic set that answered the Gourds' fondness for chicanery with a straight, stiff chaser of southern-tinged rock. McMurtry is consistently applauded for his lyrical wiles, but rarely is his guitar playing recognized as being elite in class. But when he plays in a trio, he has no choice but to flex those muscles. And last night, at the Neptune, he played as though he could curl a Pontiac.
Below is a partial set list, because anyone who's capable of recounting an entire set list likely didn't have much fun:
What's the Matter?
Just Us Kids
When the Lights Go Down
You'd Have Thought That We'd Know Better By Now
The Ballad of Terry Jones
Can't Make It Here Anymore
Too Long in the Wasteland
No More Buffalo