Giant Sand, Chore of enchantment, Thrill Jockey, Glitterhouse & Loose

Giant Sand, The Rock opera years, Ow Om

Howe, Upside down home 2000, Ow Om

Howe, Hisser (Europe), V2 & Glitterhouse

Giant Sand, Selections circa 1990-2000, V2

Howe, Confluence, Thrill Jockey & Loose

For various reasons, nearly five years had elapsed between the release of "Glum" and that of "Chore of enchantment", the last two official Giant Sand studio albums. The interval had only been shortened by the release of two live albums, one official bootleg and the OP8 album (let's skip both Calexico albums and the tribute compilation to Rainer, "The inner flame"). For Giant Sand, this can be considered as very little compensation ! But as, apparently, beside record company problems, this period covered a "writer's block" for Howe Gelb following the death of his friend Rainer , it's not too bad.
But, from march 2000 to march 2001, insatiable fans of Howe and his friends have been overjoyed by the release of no less than six albums, accompanied by two european tours. A profusion of releases and concerts which we are going to retrace now, to help those who have missed out or are getting lost.

Let's start with the happy outcome of the release of "Chore of enchantment", dropped by V2 during summer 1999, which came out finally during winter 2000 (on Thrill Jockey and Loose). An essential album in the Giant Sand discography, that every reader of these lines should know !

Right after, in april 2000, Giant Sand releases the second instalment of its official bootleg series, "The rock opera years". A proper 14 track album, which notably includes songs from "Chore" in the version dating from the first sessions for the album, in Tucson with John Parish, but which also contains previously unreleased tracks, like the excellent cover of Neil Young's "Music arcade" (from the "Broken arrow" album), recorded in '95 with Evan Dando and Victoria Williams. Many rate this album as well as "Chore of enchantment". It is availble through giantsand.com.

No releases during the summer, but Howe, along with his widow Patti, worked for the rerelease of Rainer's albums on Glitterhouse, and on the release of two posthumous albums, the studio-recorded "Alpaca lips" and the masterpiece that is the solo "Live at the performance center". And on his micro-label, Ow Om, he made us discover the first M. Ward album, "Duet for guitars # 2", before it was released in Europe on 62 TV / Les disques Mange-Tout.

In the autumn, still on Ow Om and still available on mail-order from giantsand.com, Howe releases "Upside (down) home 2000", his second non-official solo album, the first being a CD-R he had sold on a US tour a few years back, called "Upside (down) home".
Home recorded, like "Hisser", "Upside (down) home 2000" includes a couple of new versions of Giant Sand songs ("Horses still coming" and "Yer ropes") close to the solo live versions he's been playing, versions of songs found or later to be found on his albums ("Blue marble girl", "Dispatch") and a few very good new songs ("Actual desert, rose", "Dear diary", "Tender trap",...).

The year 2001 started at the same pace. In Europe, Loose and Glitterhouse released "Hisser", the second official solo Howe album, released by V2 during summer 1998 in the USA (see Vivonzeureux! n° 5), and then with three extra tracks in 1999, in Scandinavia and in the Benelux countries.

In the same stride, Loose and V2 released the third Giant Sand best-of compilation, "Selections circa 1990-2000", the most interesting one because it covers the mature period of the band, from "Sage advice" and "Ramp" to "Chore", with a few rarities (including "Music arcade") and an excellent unreleased track, "Remain distorted".

And late march, "Confluence", the third solo Howe album, was released, on Thrill Jockey and Loose. Recorded more in the studio than at home, as opposed to "Hisser", "Confluence" pursues the chronology of Howe's musical life, with some songs he's sometimes been playing live for a long time, versions of previously recorded songs, and many collaborations with friends (Joey Burns, John Convertino, John Parish, Candie Prune, Grandaddy, Kevin Salem,...), which is not surprising because, as Howe sais somewhere at the time "Confluence" was released : "recording is best used as a pretty good reason to hang with the family of friends globally scattered"...

To close this recording chapter, let's make a note that a piano album (Howe plays piano very well...) is scheduled on Thrill Jockey for an august release ("Lull, some piano"), and that the "Remain distorted" we were talking about is taken from "Unsunglum", the third official bootleg, which has been on the brink of release on Ow Om for months now (and I'm not even telling you about the excellent Sandman series !).

Rainer, Live at the Performance Center, Glitterhouse Rainer, Alpaca lips, Glitterhouse

John Convertino & Tom Larkins, Nantes, 25 octobre 2000

But music means records, but it also means concerts, and the fans have been well served in this particular area, since the tours follow each other practically non stop since the end of 1999, on both sides of the Atlantic.

It started with the get-back together of the "steady trio" of Giant Sand ain the States, then in spring 2000, the mad Giant Sand / Howe Gelb / Calexico European tour: tour as a quartet (with Nick Luca on keyboards), then split into two tours : Howe solo and Calexico.
Even with a steady line-up, Giant Sand showed once more on this tour that the atmosphere of their concerts can vary greatly from one day to the other : very electric and rock in the furnace of the Paradiso in Amsterdam, completely wayward, more acoustic and delirious the next day in Utrecht, for a concert (starting and finishing with a cover of Dylan's "Just like a woman") which marked the end of the common tour as Giant Sand.
During his solo concerts nearly as early as the next day, Howe switches from guitar to piano, still using to great effect his walkman and his pedal sampler. A session for "Radio 3" in Madrid, in front of an audience of college girls and one college boy, shows in perfect form, for a calm and relaxed concert.

Back in the USA, Giant Sand and Howe spend the summer getting their future releases ready, but play live regularly in Tucson, at Solar culture and for KXCI radio, whose DJ Jim Blackwood has been nominated "official archivist" of the band (Good luck, Jim !).

In the autumn, first, my heart missed a little beat when Le Monde (one of France's major daily newspaper) dedicated a full page to Giant Sand and the Tucson scene (the same had happened a few years back with Alan McGee and Creation. "Le Monde" is not as highbrow as it used to be, but it's always a pleasure to see an institutiàon "celebrate" someone you support...)
Then, we were awarded a new Giant Sand tour, that you could nearly dub the "super group" tour, since the trio of Gelb/Burns/Convertino, is joined by Matt Ward on lap steel, Candie Prune on backing vocals/bass/guitar, and John Parish on guitar for the french dates. The concerts evolved as a consequence (no more fiddling with a walkman), but remain varied. In Reims, the band plays a super acoustic set at an instore late in the afternoon, before giving a much more electric concert in the evening at the MJC Claudel.
In Nantes, a few days later, the band is even joined on stage for one song, a cover of "The beat goes on" by Sonny and Cher, by Tom Larkins, Jonathan Richman's drummer of the last few years, but also an ex-Naked Prey and the first Giant Sand drummer.
In the autumn, Howe took also part in London in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the City Slang record label, joining Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and Calexico on stage.

As a way to keep this good thing going, Giant Sand was invited by P.J. Harvey in februray 2001 to guest on her european tour (in the spring, it is P.J. Harvey, herself opening for U2 in the States, who will make arrangements to join Giant Sand on stage in Tucson, for a memorable concert in support of KXCI). Howe had announced beforehand, and it didn't surpise anyone such is the heavy schedule of Calexico, that Giant Sand was now made up of himself and anyone who could participate at a given moment. Which hinted that Joey et John were not permanent members of the band anymore. Which was confirmed during the tour, which started with Joey et John, rthen replaced by Jim Fairchild and Aaron Burtch of Grandaddy, and Saholy and Laureline of Candie Prune.

So, that was a very full 12 month period for Howe Gelb, which proves if needed that he breathes and lives his art constantly. Which might explain why he does it with so little self conscience that you might forget sometime that you deal with an accomplished artist. And it is probably this absence of artistic "pose", which helps him to remain warm and accessible and encourages him to make his creations available by every possible way.

Pol Dodu, may 2001, revised august 2001.

 Champagne pour Giant Sand, Reims, MJC CLaudel, 20 octobre 2000

Howe, Upside down home 2000

Tom Larkins & Howe Gelb, Nantes, 25 octobre 2000

Howe Gelb, Nantes, 25 octobre 2000

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je veux retourner à la maison!