On the band's latest release, Bolsa de Agua, we find the boys traveling to El Paso and marveling at the little delights found in squeeze boxes and pickling jars while "retarded girls," tornadoes, and chicken blood mark the miles. But, as on earlier albums Dem's Good Beeble, Stadium Blitzer, and most notably Ghosts of Hallelujah, small-town joys are suffused by melancholic allusions to a God lost. Unlike Sixteen Horsepower, whose notion of a higher power dwells in the bombastic verse of the Old Testament, the Gourds' divinity holes up in a world of hot tortillas and coffee that makes your hair stick up like startled squirrels. While Russell sings the old-time shuffle "Hallelujah Shine" with tongue-in-cheek minimalism and a tobacco twang, he fills "Laying Around the House" with drugs and daydreams in the absence of prayer. Instead of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice," we find a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca set to a mountain hymn, followed by a cowboy number whose chorus -- "Don't you know it's lonely inside of me" -- is delivered with a jubilant elbow to the ribs. The Gourds' God, like their music, is unpretentious, not simple -- intended, as they say, for the unwashed and well read, a fact best demonstrated by the banjo-driven sing-along "Receipts and Fevers," which chronicles the deaths of a man who swaps the numbers on his clock for dead wasps and a woman whose house smells like sweetmeats. He is buried in apple cores, she in lemon rinds and Eisenhower dimes, which spurs the Gourds to offer the cheerful suggestion: "Save yer receipts and fevers/ For the weeping wall/ Build yer house of bitters/ Where the tears will not fall." The Gourds perform on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Slim's at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 255-0333. The band also plays on Thursday, Feb. 22, at the Starry Plough in Berkeley at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7; call (510) 841-2082.
Armed with lyric sheets, a giant guitar, and a stringed instrument called the Chapman Stick, Brian Kenny Fresno presents modern karaoke "folk songs" about great towns like Fresno (birthplace of the "visionary restaurateur" Bobby Salazar) and great performers like Yngwie Malmsteen ("shred master wanker god" and "fastest newest sorcerer in the holy metal kingdom"). Think you're too cool to sing along? No one is that cool. Brian Kenny Fresno performs on Thursday, Feb. 22, at Kimo's with Tom Jonesin' opening at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 885-4535.
Speaking of Yngwie Malmsteen, I really can't remember if I fell for punk rock because it exterminated the guitar solo, or if my appreciation of the genre uncovered a latent abhorrence thereof (it was a long time ago and I was probably drunk). But I do know that the guitar solo used to have the same effect on me as a hair shirt coated in salt did. Eventually, as I grew to a more tolerant age, I began to appreciate the solo from a purely pop-culture perspective -- from a Spinal Tap, fringe leather jacket, boy-in-the-mirror-with-a-comb-and-a-ridiculous-facial-expression viewpoint. Now, I think I can actually take pleasure in it, as long as there are exploding flash-pots and giant monsters onstage to distract me from the overindulgent display of digital prowess (read: impotence), or as long as everyone involved freely admits that guitar wanking is just that. Which brings us to the first annual Guitar God-A-Thon and Wet Sweatpants Competition, presented by "Lucifer's Hammer" and Guitar Center. In the course of one night, 25 amateur contestants will be offered an amp, a stage, a rhythm section (for tempo and key), and two to three minutes of "shred time." They will be judged on speed, style, and technique (sadly, not on intricate tongue spectacles and Malmsteen-esque fashions), and awarded pro audio gear. The grand prize is a translucent, fluorescent green BC Rich Mockingbird. A warning to those lacking both callused fingertips and girlfriends: If you wear sweatpants and a leather jacket to the competition, you will be doused with water and judged -- for fabulous prizes, of course. Halftime "enterslayment" will be provided by master power metal act Total Eclipse, with its perfect hair and milk crate. The Guitar God-A-Thon and Wet Sweatpants Competition will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at the CW Saloon at 9 p.m. Contestants should sign up at 8:30; no guitar effect will be allowed. Tickets are $5; call 974-1585.