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From the Country Standard Time Archives

The Flatlanders: a welcome return, but where are the surprises?

The Troubadour, Los Angeles, July 2, 2002

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - The last time The Flatlanders came through town, their "Now Again" reunion album hadn't yet been released, so their material came off fresh and new. This time out, the trio of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock appeared to be much more comfortable in their new role as a minor league super group, instead of looking like a few old friends at an informal guitar-pull.

It was a show, however, that would have benefited from just a smidgen of agitation. .

Nevertheless, the music quality was still high. Both the performers and their audience had great fun with rowdy numbers like the Hancock-led "Pay The Alligator" and Ely's trouble-bound "I Thought The Wreck Was Over," as well as Gilmore's thoughtful singing of "My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day." All these songs come from the group's new album, offering proof that Don Imus has wisely chosen where to target his payola money. .

But this show completely lacked the element of surprise, since the set list was nearly a carbon copy of their last local appearance. And because all of these gentlemen are stellar songwriters on their own, it would have been a real treat to see them mix it up a bit. .

Could it really have hurt them to reach back into their respective back catalogues and pull out a few old gems? It's not as if a major label has any big money riding on the commercial success of "Now Again," so why not give the fans a little more spontaneity? .

Unlike, say, Crosby, Stills & Nash, this is no vocal power trio; it's their individual writing skills that ultimately set them apart. With no supporting acts on the bill, and an early start time, The Flatlanders could have easily dug a little deeper.

It feels a little strange complaining about such a good thing. With so much mediocre music clogging up the marketplace today, the return of The Flatlanders is certainly a welcome event. .

But watching these three highly creative singer/songwriters go through a predictable performance like this one, was a lot like watching Shaq of The Lakers only scoring with dunks: Since he's such a graceful big man, it's fascinating whenever he puts up a few turn around shots with that soft touch of his. .

Likewise, The Flatlanders, by incorporating just a few surprises from their ever-growing bag of tricks, could have transformed a solid concert into a memorable event.