Green Mountain Grass & Shotgun Party::Texas::01.09.10
Most folks still had their coats on inside The Independent, a new-ish, and rather utilitarian, venue on the hip east side of Austin. It was a Saturday evening most Austinites would choose to spend hiding in their houses, as central Texas was experiencing its annual two weeks or so of genuine cold, rendering the land of breakfast tacos and Lone Star beers into a treacherous frozen tundra. Or at least you’d have thought it so, judging from the overheard grumbles about the weather. But no matter, there was some serious cowboy-booted stomping to be done – cold concrete floors be damned – as Shotgun Party and Green Mountain Grass shared a double bill that was poised to help us shake off our chills.
When Shotgun Party took the stage, the small crowd huddled in closer. We may have been shivering on the floor, but lord, it was smokin’ under those stage lights. Jenny Parrott (guitarist, lead singer and principle songwriter) beamed with a wily grin that made you wonder just what she was scheming while she played that sweet archtop acoustic. With the firey fiddle of Katy Rose Cox and the meaty bass of Andrew Austin-Peterson, the trio craft a sound that’s positively dreamy, an effortless smorgasbord of western swing, pre-war blues, Tex Mex and stripped-down country, with strokes of speakeasy shivers and jitters of gypsy jazz.
At times, a punk aggression even snarls in their execution, as it did during their cover of well-loved traditional “Red Rocking Chair.” Driving on Cox’s diesel fiddle fuel, it was dizzying and delightful. But they are just as apt to settle into airy spaces, where the music flits and shimmies with an elusive sparkle. Their brassy, commanding stage presence, with snazzy, color-coordinated outfits to boot, held the whole operation together. Parrott introduced one particularly locomotive tune as, “A song I wrote about teenage boys while I was in puberty,” the lyrics peppered with images of thighs and peaches, all delivered in her potent, earthy voice. With a timeless sensibility that might well inspire some fresh bed frame bruises, those flashes you spy ain’t sequins, but genuine spitfire. Shotgun Party is an act to keep an eye on, and I’d suggest you sidle up to the bar and get acquainted. This is some potent, head-spinning, grab-the-back-of-your-chair-for-balance stuff.
By way of contrast, GMG’s stage presence was laid back, but there was no denying the fervor in their music. Considering how they often take time off to pursue other projects, it’s impressive to see how absolutely in sync they are when reunited. The GMG boys are schooled sonic geeks – Trevor Smith (guitar and banjo) especially is a double threat to look out for – unafraid to just go with the flow when they get onstage. With bluegrass as their base elements, they let their limbs stretch out in psychedelic progressions. That unpredictable nature has certainly gathered an enthusiastic, tight-knit family of fans to their hearth. But they have a keen sense of timing, knowing when to pull on the reigns and drive it home. That kept this show moving at a snappy pace in the midst of their explorations. It’s a gonzo take for sure (and the group does indeed describe themselves as “gonzo grass”), but as weird as they would get, that old home place was always in sight, glimmering over the horizon.
Many of their songs are spiked with a sense of humor that’s not too far removed from John Hartford. Take “Doggymouth,” about being woken up by a beloved, if slobbery, pet, which saw Dave Wilmouth (mandolin) and Jesse Dalton (bass) growling the lyrics. This slid nicely into the sunny coda at the end, which features the lines, “Every creature’s one/That lives under the sun/And every dog, every dog will have his day.” Meanwhile, songs like the broody “Banker” or mournful “Bleuridge” exposed a darker sensibility, with criminals on the run and heavy, aching hearts. Smith’s banjo was as fleet footed as the thieving protagonist in ”Banker,” running over Dalton’s thumping bassline, before Adam ”Pickles” Moss’ goosebump-inducing fiddle broke in to audience cheers.
The crowd had parted to give them room for their barbershop-style encore on the floor, and as the band returned to the stage with their instruments, a gentlemen in overalls turned around and beckoned to no one in particular to come to the dance floor, eager to stomp down the last minutes before we would be left to fend for ourselves amongst the organic coffee bars and sleeping yoga studios that have infiltrated amongst the easter-egg colored taquerias of the east side. I was thinking in that moment how I would love to peruse Shotgun Party and Green Mountain Grass’s record collections. You got a taste of what might lurk in their vinyl boxes, or more likely these days, on their computers, in the respective cover choices. This evening we were treated to Bob Wills and Billie Holiday by Shotgun, and Olla Belle Reed, Peter Rowan and even Phish (a peppy “Poor Heart”) by GMG. Of course, in this iPod era, where listeners often consume music tracks like they would a bowl of M&Ms, it is hardly surprising for bands to draw upon a wide swath of influences.
But it’s important to note that neither Green Mountain Grass nor Shotgun Party merely skim the surface. If there are common threads to be drawn between them, it’s that they are both two acoustic roots bands that are comfortable living in this time of musical plenty and breathlessly quick evolution. They may follow their own crafty muses, but they don’t let those roots get out of focus. One can see the grooves where they’ve dug their heels in and the calluses that show they’ve done their homework, sense they’ve traced those histories every which way and back again. They approach their craft with care and intention, but when they take that stage, they’ll hit those spontaneous moments of musical zen, the kind that only come when you’ve put in the real work.
Unfortunately, there were no tapers at this show, but check out some sweet live videos below (plus a link to the GMG LMA collection)