It’s too easy to say it was Texas-hot on a day when New York City hosted a mini-Flatlanders reunion. Still, it was pretty damn hot — enough that you could watch an older gentleman in a kid-sized cowboy hat attempting some sort of rhythmless flamenco dance and think “He must be crazy from the heat” instead of just plain “He must be crazy.”
But the combination of the occasional breeze and the unforgettable performances made the scorching sun and stifling humidity no more than a small nuisance. After all, how many times are New Yorkers — or the rest of the world, for that matter — going to see Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock together on one stage?
The daunting task of opening the show went to Jimmy LaFave, who responded with a solid, five-song set that included a powerful rendering of “Only One Angel” and a slightly ragged take on Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”. The set showcased LaFave and accompanist Terry Ware’s guitar skills, as well as LaFave’s soulful vocals.
Hancock, probably the least-known of the three headliners but author of several songs Gilmore and Ely have recorded over the years, took the stage next and delivered an eight-song set that proved he deserves the same amount of recognition received by his fellow Flatlanders. With just his voice and acoustic guitar, Hancock captivated the crowd, especially on the highly appropriate “Coolin’ Down”, the jaunty “One Good Time”, and a harmonica-aided “Naked Light Of Day”.
Hancock returned to the stage during Gilmore’s set to help out on “My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own”, a Hancock tune from Gilmore’s 1991 album After Awhile. It was one of several high points in Gilmore’s fluid and impressive set. Guitarists Rob Gjersoe and Gabe Rhodes provided more-than-capable backup on “Go To Sleep Alone” and “Mobile Line (France Blues)”, while Kimmie Rhodes helped out on vocals and sang lead on “Just One Love”. As usual, though, it was Gilmore’s unique voice that stood out the most, particularly on a midset Hiatt/Hyatt cover combo — John’s “Your Love Is My Rest” and Walter’s “Georgia Rose” — and a new song, co-written with Hal Ketchum, that he asked the crowd to “treat…like an old standard.”
Ely, backed by flamenco guitarist Teye and bassist Gary Harmon, once again lived up to his reputation as one of the best live acts around. Starting off with the Tom Russell classic “Gallo Del Cielo”, Ely’s set drew almost entirely from his last two albums, emphasizing Teye’s impassioned playing on songs such as “Up On The Ridge” and “Behind The Bamboo Shade”. Ely also offered a salute to another “Lubbock amigo,” covering Terry Allen’s irreverent “Gimme A Ride To Heaven Boy”, which Ely called the closest Allen ever got to a gospel song. Ely closed his set with “Letter To Laredo”, during which a flamenco dancer, looking a bit more adept than the aforementioned older gentleman, took the stage and provided some visual accompaniment.
Ely then called up Gilmore and Hancock, resulting in a surge forward as the crowd jockeyed for position. After a few shouted requests, the trio, plus Harmon on bass, began with Gilmore’s “Dallas”, trading verses and smiles along the way. Hancock’s “If You Were A Bluebird” was next, followed by a playful rendition of Butch’s “West Texas Waltz”, the trio again swapping lines and grins as Gilmore danced a waltz with his guitar. For an encore, Rhodes and LaFave returned to the stage and joined in for “Sow ‘Em On The Mountain”.
Nearly four hours after it began, the concert was over. And as Ely, Gilmore and Hancock left the stage with their arms around each other, it was clear that the oppressive humidity was no match for the strong Texas wind these legendary troubadours brought to New York.