Steve Gunn & The Outliners stormed The Echo Friday night, if not by volume, then with a lean-back, no-frills authenticity. These guys are purists, and a band that I doubt often, if ever, plays a bad show.
Perhaps that is a bold statement and one that the band would disagree with. But if skills are honed by repetition, consider that they are in the midst of 19 consecutive nights on their US tour. When they land across the pond in Europe, it will be a breakneck 23 straight nights.
On tour in support of Steve Gunn’s release Eyes On The Lines, the quartet casually blurred genre lines to play an energetic, if understated set. The lighting rig didn’t move; special effects did not go beyond the lights casting a dim orange hue, or perhaps a purple one. The band played without pretense.
Gunn & The Outliners wasted no time opening with aptly titled track “The Drop.” Ringing guitars initiated an instantly upbeat tone, as James Elkington sporadically hit the equivalent of power chords on his lap steel, momentarily registering the song as an ’80s rock ballad. Like many of the night’s performances, the opener was a clean-cut rave up, the tightly knit band staying between those titular lines, but doing 90.
Before “Ancient Jules,” Gunn acknowledged the late scheduled set time of 11:30pm, and inadvertently, his own longevity, by expressing his gratitude to “the parents” in the audience that he knew were out late to see the gig. While Gunn is in receipt of a growing momentum with his Matador Records release, his self-titled debut arrived almost ten years ago.
Eyes On The Lines single “Jules” could pass for a White Denim track, or perhaps White Denim listens to some Steve Gunn. The guitars played in unison yielded a team cacophony that managed to reverberate cleanly, even when both let loose during the scathing outro.
The Outliners took “Night Wander” out for a sunny day walk, Gunn singing the self-descriptive lyrics, “He spoke softly.” Similarly, his finger-picking style created an earthy depth akin to that once often seen from Mark Knopfler, and lately, William Tyler.
Although Gunn sounds slightly hesitant as lead vocalist, his voice maintains a deep register and an unhurried calm that provide his songs a launch pad for deferred antics. Perhaps such hesitancy is due to a belief that he can convey more via instrument, which he does.
The spacey intro to “Park Bench Smile” contained what sounded like a tease of a blurred memory once found on Delicate Sound of Thunder. By the time the tune reached full throttle, Steve Gunn had stepped back towards the drum kit and pivoted to face Elkington, his eyes closed as he played with controlled chaos.
The song’s tense extended jam contained themes that would disappear then reemerge minutes later. Soon both Gunn and Elkington had turned to their amps to abuse their instruments, the venue now awash with their intertwined feedback.
The encore saw the first two songs off of 2014’s Way Out Weather played in reverse order. “Wildwood” was a two-guitar tempered attack courtesy of Gunn on acoustic and Elkington his electric, while the album title track gave the foursome one more chance for a foot stomper. The coda had a soulful tension and release mechanism that reached a final pay off as bassist Jason Meagher asserted his own descending, slippery bass lines.
So where to place Mr. Gunn and his Outliners? Rock? Country? Jam? Folk? Americana? Yes. All of it.
Steve Gunn & the Outliners Setlist at The Echo
Full Moon Tide
Park Bench Smile
Way Out Weather
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