WPGM Reviews: The Malpaso Gang Live At Café Drummond

The Malpaso Gang 02.04.2016ANDREW
Café Drummond saw two bands covering all things solo acoustic and country western this month. It was advertised as starting an hour earlier than it did, so perhaps a clerical error rather than any lateness on the part of the bands. Stuart Williamson was first up, and consisted of acoustic guitar and vocals. “Evening, folks. Fit like?”, he asked.

The first song was quite immediate for a solo acoustic act. His vocals, though, were quite breezy. The capo came on his guitar for the second. This one was definitely more intense than the last. Good strumming rhythm for the third followed, which made the song very interesting. There was a raucous end for some power.

What followed segued from the previous, and was done almost seamlessly. Stuart’s voice was evocative of Billy Corgan, of The Smashing Pumpkins fame. Its middle section took the song elsewhere, and what’s more, worthwhile and exciting. Coming next was an Oasis cover, “Slide Away”. This was a very good interpretation, with the middle section having a bit of a growl to it.

He then slowed things down before a final, seemingly Spanish, flourish. There was then muted guitar for “Molly’s Chambers” by Kings Of Leon. This was an intense, acoustic rendition of a song largely written as an electric one. His set closer was triumphant, the song railing against those who bring him down.

The Malpaso Gang followed, and were largely country and western. They consisted of vocalist/lap, semi-acoustic and electric guitarist plus guitarist, bassist, and drummer. However, there was a tad of confusion for the reviewer, as their Facebook page variously described them both as a six and five piece band. Maybe one or two of them couldn’t make it that night? Certainly their main singer, Nina, wasn’t there.

Anyway, they kicked off things with “Honky Tonkin’” by Hank Williams. The sound was sunny, as if at the beach; and lazy, as if sunbathing. There was some signature lap guitar to make it stand out, too. Before the next offering, the singer donned his semi-acoustic, leaving the lap guitar for another song.

Then came Dolly Parton number, “Just Someone I Used To Know”. It was very wistful, perhaps about unrequited love, or about a former flame. There was a lone couple dancing in front of the stage. They certainly were a tad happier than the protagonists in the song, that’s for sure.

The singer was back on the lap guitar for a Patsy Cline song. “Walkin’ After Midnight” was slightly melancholy, the descending bassline giving it a dreary vibe. There was a nice, tasteful but sad guitar solo. With the singer then back on the semi-acoustic, the band launched into original composition, “Whatever”.

“When you left me, I just said, whatever”, was an example of lyrics definitely taking a tongue in cheek look at the whole country and western genre. There was a lovely guitar solo, set against, of course, lyrics that didn’t take themselves seriously. The good music wasn’t as despondent as the lyrics.

Debuting his electric guitar, the singer and the rest of the band began with “Not My Style”. This was another original, and apparently is coming out on their latest album in a couple of months time. This, effectively was another light hearted dig at country and western. The bass really broke out in this one, and ever constant. Also there were numerous and fitting guitar solos.

“Devil’s Right Hand” saw another, younger, couple out on the dance floor. The lyrics had a nice swing, the way they were set to the instrumental foundations. Perhaps a dig at a gun toting genre? The singer’s electric guitar made a second appearance, before telling the audience, “Eric’s going to play some slide guitar for you”.

There was some nice and bluesy guitar, akin, perhaps, to Mark Knopfler and Chris Rea. Several were dancing to this one, called “Cash On The Barrelhead”. The bouncing bass was punctuating the rhythm on the dancefloor. Everybody in the band was syncopated in this one, giving it a real groove. Things ended with an epic final flourish.

“Stay there, folks. We have another one you can dance to”. This had the basis of twelve bar blues, seemingly, and a dreary sadness almost like melancholy. Again, plenty on the floor giving all they had. Good dynamics with just guitar playing vocalist, at one point. Next was a slower one, with the dancefloor largely vacated but for one couple. The guitars were jangly and atmospheric. This accompanied by some slide guitar.

With the singer going back to the semi-acoustic, the band played a Kris Kristofferson track, “Help Me Make It Through The Night”. This opened with just vocals and his guitar. The whole band kicked in to give it some rocking power, however slow and lumbering. Polite applause was interspersed with hollering and whooping.

Then came “Ten Long Fingers”, a Joe Poovey cover, and something of a groover. It was twelve bar blues with a swing filling the dancefloor with its “great balls of fire”. People were really jiving down to the floor and back up, again. The guitar playing was playing that basic melody, and was very satisfying. A surfer solo was also pleasing, with much fanfare at the end.

“Any Johnny Cash fans here, tonight?” This was followed with “Ring Of Fire”. The dancefloor was about as full as it’d ever been that night. Jangly guitars, in a sort of paradoxical way, packed a punch, too.

“A classic from mister Reeves”, was the introduction to “He’ll Have To Go”. This was dreary but with a swing that stopped it from getting too melancholy and morose. There were a couple of couples dancing, more romantic waltzing, rather than jiving. The guitar solo was almost Spanish in parts, in what it evoked. It was a love gone wrong kind of song.

“This one is one of our old ones”, regarding an ode to a Mexican condiment, “Tobasco” sauce. The song’s composition was like where America borders with Mexico, and not just in the lyrics, the latter of which said, “It’s the condiment that’s bound to compliment”. The bass was cyclical but appealing, and the guitar was tasteful. Tasty, even. There was spontaneous singing of chorus once the song was long finished.

Following perhaps one of the highlights of the night’s set, was “Want To See The Back Of You”. This opened with lap guitar combining with electric, the chicken scratch licks set well against drums and bass that locked in and solidified the whole thing. There was a bit of a twin melody thing going on between the two guitars with the solo. The bass broke out itself in this one, even just slightly with expressive descending runs. Yet more shouts for aforementioned “Tobasco” followed.

The singer filled in the crowd with what’d be coming next, saying a “boogie woogie thingy” was next. This was a swinging twelve bar blues groove. Someone was doing the twist on the dancefloor. There was a nice, expressive solo, which had a swing of its own. The bassist debuted a plectrum, good sign that maybe this track would be the peak of the set, tempo wise. As it turned out, it was only a few beats behind scintillating.

“El Paso” came up, next. It was a rambling affair like going on a cowboy’s journey. The dancefloor was a tad calmer than before, but not barren. The guitar solo had a touch of tragedy, like a journey that hadn’t gone to plan; or explained with the following: “How can I be a father, when I am but a boy?”

Then there was a song recorded both by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, called “Always On My Mind”. The bass had slightly more clarity than usual, perhaps due to the aforementioned pick. The music was, generally, quite sad yet, on the other hand, somehow grateful.

“This one is called Travellers Blues”. With this, the dancefloor began to fill up again. The singer took double centre stage, if you like, with a guitar solo. It wasn’t long, however before guitarist proper weighed in with his own chops. Butts were drilling to the floor and back up again. It seemed to be all over so fast.

George Jones was covered next, with “White Lightning”. This was arguably the first straight forward rock song of the night. Those not familiar with Jones might equate it with something by Lynryrd Skynyrd. Their whooping singer definitely got lively.

They closed proceedings with another Johnny Cash track, “Folsom Prison Blues”. This was tight, syncopated and right in the pocket country twelve bar blues. The rhythm section were doing their jobs dutifully, and vocals and guitars doing theirs beautifully. People were linking arms and jigging on the dancefloor. The singer was getting a touch wild with a guitar solo. The whole band broke out, sans vocals. There was an elaborate ending to finish proceedings. The ringing of the bass made sure of this.

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Words by Andrew Watson

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