Doug Gillard Charlotte Show Review
(show photos courtesy of Enid Valu)
It little over a month ago that I found myself in Charlotte, North Carolina for Doug Gillard’s amazing solo show at Snug Harbor. Found out about Doug’s mini-tour of the Carolinas well in advance, and was instantly tempted despite budgetary concerns. It was not only a rare opportunity to see Doug headline in a small club, but also a chance to preview full band versions of new songs from his upcoming album (regular readers of this blog know what a huge fan I am of Gillard’s first post-GBV solo album Salamander).
So I used the timing of the gig to arrange a long overdue visit to my mom and older brother in the low country of coastal South Carolina (I’m the weird middle child of 3 boys). Said brother Martin was one of the major musical influences in my life- a discriminating rock fan going back to the 70’s. So it didn’t take any convincing at all for him to agree to share the four hour drive up to Charlotte and join me for the gig!
Despite his usually impeccable musical taste, Martin was never really into Guided By Voices. But the long drive up (in his comfortably air conditioned, Sirius satellite radio playing automobile) afforded me an opportunity to play Salamander for him. Thus, an instant Doug Gillard fan was born (he later picked up a copy for himself at the gig)!
The time flew by and before long, we were stepping out into the wall of heat and humidity of Charlotte, North Carolina. Snug Harbor is a cozy dark-wood New Orleans/pirate themed bar in a hip late-night district of the city. Colorful regulars (several burly, bearded and shirtless) mixed in with bespectacled hipsters and packs of lovely ladies on the back patio before the music began. The low stage was tucked away in a corner of the main bar room. Early enough to snag a nearby booth, me and Martin slowly sipped our drinks and relaxed through the opening acts Tonberry and A Decent Animal. I also had the pleasure to run into one of my Disarm The Settlers cohorts "mksmc2000", a local who was more than willing to hang out and talk GBV (to the exclusion of my brother, sorry man).
Midnight approached as Doug Gillard and Fence Lions, a local band friendly with Gillard, took the stage as a crowd gathered around. The close proximity of the audience to the band and the lowness of the stage made for a very intimate and intense rock experience.
Immediately, Gillard proved himself an energized and powerful frontman (comparable to the best I’ve seen), ripping through Salamander single Symbols, Signs. Coiled before the mic like a snake ready to strike, he played his '77 black Les Paul with the mastery I’d witnessed countless times with Guided By Voices and Richard Buckner. But as a solo artist, he simultaneously sang lead vocals and led the band without missing a step. Its not often one sees a lead guitarist fronting a band with the ease of Doug Gillard.
And later, I was amazed to learn that Fence Lions normally play in a more moody and mellow country-influenced rock style, nothing like Gillard’s. After only several rehearsals and performances, they meshed amazingly well with Doug’s music and live performance, bringing a high level of energy and drive to the set. It felt to me as if they had played together for years.
But for me, the sweetest thing about the show was seeing and hearing Gillard unleashed on his own material. From songs I’ve grown to love from Salamander like Goin’ Back, Valpolicella, Me & The Wind, to GBV b-side Free Of This World, to incredible new songs like No One Above You, Gogol Was Rollo, Call From Restricted (many demos of which were featured on Doug’s myspace page at one time or another in the past year), Gillard seemed to relish speaking in his own unique musical voice. And my already high level of excitement for his forthcoming album went through the roof. Major goosepimples hearing those new songs in full bloom.
As a special treat, the band squeezed in a very faithful and rocking cover of The Smiths’ Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before. Closing out with the Gillard penned Gem/GBV classic I Am A Tree (a song with more intensely catchy guitar riffs that should be allowed by law) was the icing on the cake. Couldn’t resist pumping a fist in a moment of rawk ecstasy. Here is the full setlist from the gig…
No One Above You
Gogol Was Rollo
Free of This World
For What I've Done
Love, Blinding Love
Call From Restricted
Stop Me (Smiths cover)
Me & The Wind
I Am A Tree
Unfortunately, there was no encore. Gillard and Fence Lions played every single song they knew together! But being a part of an uplifting night of blistering rock… who could ask for more? Both me and my bro had a great time... well worth the cross-country flight and road trip through the Carolinas.
And if you live in major metropolitan area east of the Mississippi, go check out the Superdrag reunion tour this fall. Doug Gillard will be on lead guitar with Stewart Pack's band as the opening act (warm up gig at The World Grotto, Knoxville, Tennessee on September 22), playing songs from Pack's solo projects as well as his former bands, and perhaps some of Doug's songs too! Go check out this new Knoxville Daily Times article about Gillard and Pack's collaboration and the upcoming gig.
Take care my Earth-bound brothers and sisters in rock!