Never a man to resist a whim, Howe Gelb has resurrected the band title he retired a few years back and re-recorded the first album which came out under the Giant Sand name, 1985’s ‘Valley of Rain’. The whys and wherefores for this are myriad perhaps but Gelb reasons that the original album suffered from being too clean, his Roland amp being one of the guilty culprits, preferring the final three songs he recorded for the album using an old Fender Tube amp (previously owned by Robbie Krieger, trivia fans). So, having secured an old 80’s Fender 30 amp late last year, Gelb set about recording ‘Return to The Valley of Rain’ and even managed to round up the original band to play on several of the songs. Job done, Giant Sand then set about a European tour to play the album live, tonight’s show the second last in the UK after a swirl around Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
Reports from seasoned Sand fans of previous shows on the tour were positive, describing them as loud and raucous and, “just like the eighties.” They didn’t lie. With three guitarists (Gelb, Gabriel Sullivan and Annie Dolan), Thoger Lund on bass and Winston Watson (a veteran of Dylan’s Never Ending Tour) on drums, the band tackled the songs with a lusty vigour, at times the noise and mayhem approaching MC5 or Dinosaur Jnr. like mayhem although the singular dynamics of Gelb’s songs survived the sonic mauling with the band ebbing and flowing, allowing the light and shade to fan out from the stage.
The running order of the new album is changed from that of the original and tonight’s set list further scrambled the picture as the band slouched into a powerful and much slower version of ‘Barrio’ than that of the original before launching the first of the fireworks on a ferocious delivery of ‘October Anywhere’, the rhythm section pounding as the guitars flailed away and boy, was it loud! An even more ferocious ‘Black Venetian Blind’ followed with Gelb and Sullivan assaulting their guitars creating a cacophonous and wonderful noise with Gelb’s guitar strings surrendering towards the end of the song necessitating a brief hiatus as he changed guitars. ‘Artists’ was a perfect example of the dynamics of the night as Gelb half spoke the words as the band vamped before launching into a juggernaut of sound to close the song.
Gelb noted that it was 33 and 1/3 years ago that he delivered ‘Valley of Rain’ into the world, typical of his sometimes gnomic observations, but there was nothing aged about the songs as one by one they tumbled from the maw of this spectacularly fired up band. The relatively restrained ‘Death, Dying and Channel 5’ contained a spooky David Lynch like version of Hank’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ while ‘Down On Town (Love’s No Answer)’, another furious bash with battling guitars, ended with a wonderful coda. ‘Man of Want’ featured some amazing guitar pyrotechnics from Sullivan and also offered Dolan her opportunity to play her main solo of the night as she plucked discordant chords from her guitar adding to the sonic mess of the song. Closing the set Gelb described ‘Tumble and Tear’ as a, “slow waltz, a ladies’ choice,” a joke of course as the song was yet another sonic blast and a final reminder that this refried version of these vintage songs should suffice to satisfy any jaded appetite. Even an encore of ‘Hurtin’ Habit’, a much more recent song, was given an Iggy & The Stooges blast, Gelb and his compadres blowing away any cobwebs one might imagine have gathered over the years and a grand end to what was a magnificent night.
We need to note that tonight was a family affair as the support band, Patsy’s Rats, is Gelb’s daughter’s band. Playing a feisty update of 80’s power pop they churned up some fine sounds on ‘Little Rat Charm’ and ‘Tangerine’ with Patsy and Christian Blunda acting as if they were the duelling guitarists in Thin Lizzy when they played a new song we didn’t catch the title of. On their first overseas tour, Blunda was kind enough to say they were glad to be in Glasgow, home of The Vaselines and The Pastels and it’s fair to say that we Glaswegians liked them. They have potential and hopefully they’ll be back.