Saturday, 5 December 2009

Best of the 2000s: Giant Sand: Chore of Enchantment

Before they went on to achieve unexpected success as Calexico, Joey Burns and John Convertino were firmly part of the revolving Tucson musical collective Giant Sand. Giant Sand is basically Howe Gelb and friends, and it would be hard to think of a man better equipped to be the centre of such an undertaking.

Even though I love Giant Sand, they are absolutely terrifying for the newcomer. They are very much a cult band, with seemingly hundreds of records released by different line-ups, and a thriving ecosystem of collaborators and side projects (including, by this point, pretty much anyone who is anyone in indie music). He also taught guitar to Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter for the harrowing Generation X art-film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Luckily for normal people who would prefer not to spend the whole of 2010 listening to an endless stream of Howe Gelb output (It's a fools errand, he will probably release enough material in 2010 to last you for 2011, and so on. You'll only be free when he dies.), Chore of Enchantment is a safe entry point to the Pandora's box which is the Gelb output. It contains all the things that make him himself: wordplay, eclecticism, deceptively simple guitar work and an endlessly roving intelligence, and condenses them into one digestible hour.

The album is, at heart, the most upbeat memorial album ever. It is bookended by tributes to Gelb's friend and former Giant Sand bandmate, slide guitar hero Rainer Ptacek. It contains some standout moments, including Shiver, a cute country ballad which was, bizarrely, used to score a Coke commercial.

I saw Gelb play a solo show in Aarhus, Denmark, where we both lived for some time in the early years of this decade. Gelb took more away than me, his current band is filled with musicians from the thriving jazz scene there. He had with him a CD player perched on top of his piano. He played random songs, and played along on the piano, or on his red guitar. The mistakes and missteps were part of the performance, as was the open stage where anyone could join him. That's Gelb in a nutshell, generous, eclectic and genius in equal parts.

C'mon, c'mon.

Wow, I've never seen that video before. How fine it is.


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