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Gig review: Band of Heathens at Gateshead Old Town Hall

May 25, 2011 Comments: 0
Band of Heathens
Photo: Martin Sharman

Austin, Texas - by all accounts, the coolest city in America, and by that definition, the world. Home to South By Southwest, the trendiest industry-shindig-cum-hipster-music-festival known to man, and the barometer to all that is hot and fresh in bands. To actually hail from Austin, as the Band of Heathens do, is surely a mixed blessing – your home turf is well known as a fertile breeding ground for quality music, but standing out amongst the thousands clamouring for attention every year can't be an easy task - and the stakes are raised even higher tonight when they’re introduced as the “best band in Austin”. If that includes festival week, it’s quite a statement.
The Band of Heathens were formed at a jam session in an Austin club, and as a consequence the band are blessed with three songwriters who take turns on lead vocal - sometimes within the same song.  There’s Colin Brooks, who plays a beautiful National steel guitar; Gordi Quist and his vintage Tele with Bigsby trem, who by virtue of standing in the middle of the stage is the closest thing the band have to a frontman; and Ed Jurdi, who courtesy of the good burghers of Gateshead has a grand piano at his disposal.
With all that firepower at their fingertips you'd expect a decent noise - and you'd be right.  Band of Heathens have a great catalogue of Southern country rock at their disposal, and they deploy it in fine fashion.  Their style is exemplified by the languid “Look At Miss Ohio”, telling tales of driving roof-down in the Georgia summer sun, complete with ripped-silk vocal, epic instrumentation, and no rush to get anywhere in particular.
When not outside in the sunshine, we're taken to seedy backwaters where French wine is quaffed, ashtrays overflow with unmentionable substances, and the outlaw shadow of the Mexican border is never too far away. The tempo rises with the funky, swampy “Medicine Man”, with a groove as dirty as they come - in a way reminiscent of an early Guns n' Roses in its suggestive grinding rhythm and fat guitars, although no Southern gal would have second thoughts about bringing any of these fine gentlemen home to meet Mom, something that could never be said about Axl Rose.
Apart from the usual applause at the end of each song, it's difficult to tell if the crowd are having a good time - the venue is all-seated, so apart from a handful of brave souls in the aisles, the audience are near enough motionless in their chairs. Such a waste of a good boogieing opportunity... for this sort of act, sitting down is almost sinful: some more dancing space would have done justice to the band's grooves.
That apart, this is a flawless performance from beginning to end.  For fans of the Southern sound, there can surely be no better way to soundtrack your daydreams. Let’s hope the band can keep their shoulders above the annual gaggle of hopefuls that congregate in their hometown and make a permanent mark on the consciousness of modern America.
Martin Sharman


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