Celtic Connections: Giant Sand @ ABC2, 15 Jan
For a band formed in 1985, Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand manage to sound fresher and more unique tonight than most of the acts who have come and gone like the seasons over the past few years. A large fraction of their appeal lies in Gelb himself, possessing an oddly monotone voice that still manages to speak volumes and soothe like a campfire storyteller, whilst his guitar style is eclectically wonderful, occasionally blasting forth with unpredictable lines and taking wildly divergent paths from the remainder of the band only to return to equilibrium without missing a beat.
The other part of their charm lies in the music itself, each song transporting the audience to a new mental vista; from smoky piano bars to honky-tonk hangouts, every so often taking on a faintly dreamlike ambience to the performance that would make them right at home in Twin Peaks. And yet, this is only Giant Sand at half power: when they really turn up the tempo, band and audience alike seem to transform with the sudden rush in volume, despite the venue’s sound system beginning to struggle at these points and becoming swamped with noise. Technical issues aside, it’s a captivating set by exceptional players. [David Bowes]