Giant Sand @ Whelans, Dublin 13th April 2016

The (fake) snakeskin-suited Howe Gelb led this version, for what was rumoured to be the final time, of Giant Sand for what turned out to be pretty special farewell. He opened the show seated behind the keyboards with what he wryly introduced as a song from the next tour. He was accompanied by bassist Thøgar Lund and drummer Peter Dombernowsky for the first set of songs before announcing the first appearance of Maggie Björklund on pedal steel guitar. A standout of this set was a version of He Stopped Loving Her Today.

He then introduced guitarists Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan to the stage. Both have released solo recordings and are members of interesting Tuscon band XIXA. The latter delivered a stunning version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad, the Bruce Springsteen song, which he has recorded under his own name. it was then Lopez’s turn and he sang a song in Spanish. For these Gelb had left the stage but soon rejoined on electric guitar and mellifluously mottled vocals. Of his sartoriol elegence the suit he informed us came from Dusseldorf while the fedora was from Portugal. The bolo tie was likely from somewhere closer to home.

From then on he drew songs from the air from the numerous Giant Sand releases from over 30 years. “The evening dictates the set” the told us noting that he had a long standing paper allergy and that they never used a set list. It didn’t really matter if you knew the songs or not as these were largely going to be what they were on the night depending on the band, mood and the weather!

The triple electric (and sometimes acoustic) line-up was a powerful and largely organic beast. It made me think that the massed hard rock guitars witnessed recently at C2C for what was passing as country music had none of the grace or invention (and lack of rock god poses) on show here tonight. The band rocked without ever loosing track of the songs and the mood they wanted to create. The pedal steel was used in interesting ways and Gelb said Björklund was one freeing the instrument from a long imprisonment in country music. 

Gelb brought his daughter Patsy Jean onstage for a memorable version of the Lee Hazelwood song Sand (a song that Gelb had previously recorded with Lisa Germano as OP8). She remained on stage for a selection of other songs. Hurtin’ Habit had a solid Bo Diddley beat under the repeated “I Hurt Myself” vocal refrain. For the final set of songs they were initially joined by their support Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy) before finishing the night with a couple of songs from the guitar based five piece.

 It was a evening to remember from a band that will be hard to forget; full of inspirational playing, compelling vocals and an overall a sense of fun and adventure that you don’t find that often these days.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photograpohy by Declan Culliton