Giant3 Sand, as their name is currently stylised, were the band for my first ever proper gig at St. George’s Hall, a very appropriate band for such a grand setting, and on their first ever visit to Liverpool to boot, thanks to the efforts of the wonderful Harvest Sun, in association with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
I drove into town after The Boy Wonder had gone to bed, making it into the venue just in time to enjoy a bit of Real Estate being spun before Giant Sand’s lead singer Howe Gelb strode onto the stage to introduce the support acts.
Unusually, but quite effectively, support came from the individual members of Giant Sand, with Danish pedal steel artiste Maggie Björklund first up. I was blissfully unaware that she was part of the band, knowing her really only through her 2011 debut album Coming Home.
She was older than I expected, playing Intertwined off the album I have, although obviously not as a duet with Mark Lanegan as recorded. Next came Brian Lopez, who had to improvise somewhat having broken his acoustic guitar during the soundcheck. He looked like a young Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads, but sang some beautifully delicate alt.country.
He started with I Pray For Rain from his 2011 debut album Ultra, before sitting at the piano for a song he described as a love song to a broken TV, the lovely title tune from last year’s Static Noise album.
Lonna Kelley then emerged to sing Wolf Pack from her Take Me Home Spiderman album, released earlier that month.
Finally came Gabriel Sullivan, starting off with Just A Sea Between Us from his mad project of last year to write, record and release a new song every single day of the year! That kind of exploit makes The Wedding Present and Ash look like real part-timers. I much preferred Fall Apart, from 2011’s Where The Bad Ones Go, though overall I found him less appealing than Lopez.
They kicked off with the rollicking Ride The Rail off 2010’s Blurry Blue Mountain, an album I don’t know, before playing one of my favourites off the new album, Home Sweat Home, although unfortunately it lost much of its charm in this version.
In fact, they played practically the whole of Heartbreak Pass, with barely anything from the rest of their catalogue. That was probably a good thing as not only do I think it is a fine piece of work, I had entirely lost track of them between 1991’s Ramp and this year’s latest release. According to Wikipedia, that means I’ve missed a full twenty of their albums! Instead, I just have six of the first seven and then the latest one.
There was some great pedal steel from Maggie on Song So Wrong, which was followed by the rocking Every Now And Then, also from the new LP. Howe enlivened Lost Love from 2012’s Tucson: A Country Rock Opera by playing the piano with his guitar neck! A rare non-Heartbreak Pass track followed, Paradise Here Abouts from Howe Gelb’s 2006 solo platter ‘Sno Angel Like You.
The set then took a detour as Gelb took a step back to allow his band members another moment in the spotlight each. Brian sang a song in Spanish before Gabriel’s turn. Maggie played a James Bond-esque TV theme, or perhaps it just sounded like one. Finally, Lonna returned for a number.
Howe sat at the piano for Tucson’s Not The End Of The World, with Lonna also singing with him. Several more songs off Heartbreak Pass followed culminating with the wonderful Leonard Cohen-referencing Texting Feist that ended with a freaky Joe Meek-esque guitar solo. The main set then closed with the album opener, Heaventually.
The band then returned for the thirteen-year old song Man On A String that is actually from this year’s album, before their one concession to playing a genuine oldie, the dense and gothic Tumble And Tear off 1985’s debut Valley Of Rain. Finally, Howe and Lonna were left alone to sing Forever And Always, unsurprisingly off Heartbreak Pass!
It was great to get to see Giant Sand after all these years, having first bought their records back in 1992/3, though they’ve never been a band I’ve grown to more than quite like. However, Howe Gelb was an engaging presence, and the evening was very enjoyable, probably made more so by the fact that I surprisingly knew the vast majority of the (very good) songs.
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Here are some selections from the set: