Sands of Time: Giant Sand

Howe Gelb discusses the end of Giant Sand and the band’s first reunion show

Howe Gelb is bemused by reactions to Pitchfork's announcement last week that he's ending the 30-year career of Giant Sand. The surprising thing was that the online music magazine, which Gelb feels has ignored the band heretofore, would find the announcement newsworthy.

Tucson guitarist, singer-songwriter and bandleader Brian Lopez, a member of Giant Sand's current lineup, says, "He's been talking about it for a long time. He mentioned it at shows...that this was....going to be the last album, and if [audiences] want to catch us one more time, you're going to have to come in the spring [referring to a European tour set for April]."

"The last two years of touring have been the best," Gelb says. "It just feels so good, and there's so much energy and, it occurred to me after two years touring like this that maybe it's a sensible idea to go out on a high note. And maybe it's also a good idea to go out while it's a 30-year thing, instead of, you know, like 31 years.

"The last album, also, was a perfect album," Gelb says, referring to 2015's Heartbreak Pass. "It's like all the genres are represented, but they seem kind of perfected for us."

"He's been really happy on the tour. It's the best one I'd ever seen with Gelb's daughter Patsy and her band," Lopez says. "So maybe he just felt like going out on a high note."

Performing with Patsy also no doubt reinforced Gelb's recent pre-occupation with turning 60. On that theme, he has been working on a new project he calls "modern standards," which offers slower and mid-tempo piano-based pieces that might fit on a Frank Sinatra record in the 1950s.

"It'll be the indie rock way into jazz standards," Gelb says, "but I have to write them myself because I can never learn real jazz standards. I want to do some serious contemplating on piano furniture, you know?

"I'm also dazzled by how great XIXA is, and you know, because I love, I adore Gabriel (Sullivan) and Brian's (Lopez) output, separately and together." XIXA is crowd-pleasing, arena-ready, psychedelic cumbia project of Giant Sand's current sidemen. "The XIXA thing is going be massive," Gelb says.

Sadly, Gelb has never entirely let go of the pain and resentment he felt in the late '90s when he lost his soul brother, Rainer Ptacek, to brain cancer, and his backing band, Calexico, to the kind of global popularity that long eluded Giant Sand. Gelb, meanwhile, was mired in writer's block.

Circumstances now seem to offer a second chance to send off his band's soaring side project with something like grace at a time his creativity is alive with a new project and his confidence is strong. He's found that change can bring a better future than he can now imagine.

Naturally, he's already imagining.

"If I need to get loud any time soon," he says, "the first person I'm going to look up is Annie Dolan [of Louise Le Hir's band]. Her guitar playing, her sound, her attack with that guitar, takes me back to being 14 again when I first heard electric guitar, how it moved me. You know she had her guitars stolen."

This thought inspires Gelb to suggest a closing. "Here's the punchline after all this: Giant Sand will be performing March 26 at Hotel Congress a benefit to get Annie another guitar."

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