The Hot Club of Cowtown opened their eleven-date tour of Ireland in fine style at The Sugar Club this evening. The Austin based trio’s trademark and quite unique mix of western swing, gypsy jazz and layers of sweet traditional American music is delivered in two sets. Their welcomed return to Ireland after an absence of six years is a joy to behold. Playing to a packed venue and with a deserved reputation for feeding on the energy generated by their audiences, that two-way passion is very much in evidence from opener Dev'lish Mary right through to their second encore Ida Red.
HCC consist of fiddle virtuoso Elana James, Whit Smith on his faithful Gibson L5 guitar and Jake Erwin, the man that slaps and plucks the upright bass like no other. James and Smith share lead vocals and all three contribute delightful harmonies throughout their very well received show by an audience that ranges from students to grandparents.
The band are renowned for selecting standard swing material and putting their own stamp on it yet managing to remain faithful to the original recordings. They have also written and recorded a large catalogue of their own material over nearly two decades and up to thirteen albums. This evenings show features twenty-five offerings in total from that vast catalogue of material in two sets, the first lasting forty-five minutes and the second, following a fifteen-minute interval, sixty minutes. The playing throughout is timeless, seamless and almost telepathic by three instrumentalists and vocalists that appear to effortlessly achieve the perfect balance between the Texan swing sound of Bob Willis and the mid-20th century French jazz vibe of Stéphane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt.
Stay a Little Longer and Oklahoma Hills from their 2010 album What Makes Bob Holler both feature together with crowd favourites Forget-Me-Nots, Avalon and Emily.
New material including Marty Robbin’s 160 Acres is delivered in three-part harmony alongside the old standard Cotton Eyed Joe ("deemed explicit by I tunes’ Ervin adds ‘no idea why maybe you lot can figure out"). They also display an ability to slow things down with ballads Call of the Canyon from their latest album Midnight on the Trail and Chip Away The Stone a song Smith tells us he is told is very popular in Ireland ("probably a lie but we’ll play it anyway!"). They even manage to feature a smarting of Elana's Reunion.
Without appearing to be working from a prepared set list Smith invites requests from the audience and responds to a request to perform There'll Be Some Changes Made, a song selected by Jools Holland on one of their appearance on his show ("our five minutes of fame" jokes James)
A Big Ball's in Cowtown closes the second set in style with the three leaving the stage but returning within minutes to a tremendous reception. "It’s good to see you all again so soon" jokes James before launching into a rousing Ida Red which, like so many of their songs, affords each of the three the opportunity to perform individual solos, rewarded by a standing ovation by the crowd.
"We’re Hot Club of Cowtown", announces Ervin before leaving the stage."If you liked the show please tell your friends as we’ve lots more dates In Ireland, if you didn’t like it let your enemies know instead."
It’s difficult to bring to mind many other groups of musicians with the ability to generate such passion, humour and excitement both musically and vocally. No surprise that they have toured with Bob Dylan, Roxy Music and Willie Nelson as support act.
Review by Declan Culliton Photography by Ronnie Norton