The Flatlanders are an interesting entity, a side project for three Texas songwriters that is arguably more popular than their individual careers. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock all grew up in the shadow of Buddy Holly’s ghost in Lubbock, Texas. The kindred spirits started performing together and released a Flatlanders album in the early 1970s. Fame and fortune were not forthcoming. Ely and Gilmore eventually had runs on major labels, with Ely often recording songs written by his Flatlanders colleagues. Both men are no stranger to critical hosannas and commercial disappointments. Hancock has followed his musical muse on a much smaller scale.
Over the past decade, the trio has released three albums of original material. Lacking any significant airplay or signature songs, the alt-country Americana legend or myth they have created has helped them establish a respectable fan base. The three Texas troubadours brought their “40th Anniversary Tour” to the Cendera Center in Fort Worth on August 3rd.
Joe Ely serves as the primary emcee, catalyst, and has the most commanding stage presence of the group. He’s the heart of the band. With his moving Texas twang tenor, Gilmore is the soul of the unit. Witty songwriter Hancock is the brains of the outfit. Together, they put on a show that alternated between relaxed and energetic, yet always filled with “hey, it’s so good to be together and performing our songs for you” good vibes.
Thematically, the Flatlanders will not leave you wanting in terms of transportation, meteorology, geography, and earth science subjects. Mountains, rain, earth, the sky, the road, snow, rivers, waves, trains, raindrops, rainbows, highways, Dallas, Texarkana, Juarez, and Carlsbad Caverns all received their due mention. The Flatlanders are standing on terra firma yet reaching for the cosmos.
Highlights included the almost bluegrass “Rose from the Mountain” featuring Gilmore on lead vocals and secret weapon multi-instrumentalist Jeff Plankenhorn on mandolin. Ely took the lead on Hancock’s humorous “Circle of Love” and his own “I’m Gonna Strangle You Shorty” was incessantly droll. Hancock’s best moment was on the Townes Van Zandt cover “Snowin’ on Raton.”
The band (which also featured Pat Manske on drums and Jimmy Pettit on bass) turned up the energy for a hard charging version of “Dallas” and left nothing on the table for a searing cover of The Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sittin’ On Top of the World” during the encore. The latter tune is often performed as a slow blues number but Ely pushed the band into frenetic overdrive. On a Friday night in Fort Worth, the appreciative audience was delighted that the Flatlanders have become more of a band than a legend.
Grade: A –
Had My Hopes Up High
Baby Do You Love Me Still
Wavin’ My Heart Goodbye
Not That Much Has Changed
Rose from the Mountain
Circle of Love
Thank God for the Road
I Know You
One Road More
Snowin’ on Raton
Down in My Hometown
I’m Gonna Strangle You Shorty
Right Where I Belong
Sittin’ On Top of the World
too on the nose
into rock god land
The venue is deeply symbolic
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