Review Summary: Just let me roll, let the high times carry the low/just livin' my life easy come easy go
The unattainable goal of any live album is to bring as much of the live experience to the listener as possible. I say unattainable because a live album limits a concert to just its auditory aspects, when a show is so much more of a sensory experience than just the music being played. The physical presence of the band itself, the crowd pressing and milling about in the heat and glare of the stage lights, the sweat, beer and weed smells drifting and mingling into something heady and vital are all integral parts of the live experience. As such, the best any live album can hope to do is to try to capture that atmosphere through audio alone, a task that, while impossible in essence, the best live records are able to approach by documenting the sheer vitality and spirit of the group as they pour passion and sweat into their music for the entertainment of the wide-eyed crowds. Viva Terlingua, Jerry Jeff Walker’s live debut with The Lost Gonzo Band, is not only one of those records, it perhaps best embodies the sense of place and atmosphere of a live show more than any other live country album.
There’s something lovably ramshackle about Viva Terlingua, a spontaneity and lackadaisical charisma that calls to mind a half-drunk jam sesh between a bunch of seasoned country veterans, fueled by Wild Turkey and herb, songs broken up by bull sessions and raucous laughter that blare out into the pre-dawn summer air. It’s loose and unpolished, occasionally to the point of being sloppy, but it’s so effusive in its good humored charm that any minor hiccups in the singing or playing can be forgiven without a second thought (although Jerry’s broken yowl in Sangria Wine might cause a few cringes). Gettin’ By, the slacker anthem that opens the album, rolls along easy and smooth, Jerry Jeff half-sheepishly poking fun at his own erratic recording schedule while studio heads wait anxiously for new material. It’s a mindset that fits Walker’s ethos to a T, that there’s no point making tunes until the time’s right, and the time ain’t right until it’s fun to make music. Ultimately, it’s the core spirit of the record, the sound of a band just reveling in the sheer joy of making good, fun music, paying tribute to heroes and friends and letting the audience share in the experience.
Described on the liner notes as a live album recorded in the Luckenbach TX dance hall, a jam-packed show with an admission price of $1, there’s actually only a handful of tracks with any kind of audience noise in the background. The album does such a good job capturing the energy of the band, however, that you really don’t need to hear the crowd cheering each and every track to know that Jerry and the band were killing the show. By all accounts, regardless of how much audience noise made it on the record, the crowd that night was more than rowdy enough to match the high spirits of Jerry and the Lost Gonzo Band, and their enthusiastic participation shows itself most clearly on the hilarious Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother, the crowd whooping and roaring with each line of the song. It’s an inspired moment and one of the best uses of crowd noise I’ve heard on a live track. The crowd shows up again, to riotous effect, on London Homesick Blues, an initially despondent ballad about longing for everything Texas while stuck in a London hotel. After a couple of verses the song roars to life as the chorus breaks into a howling refrain, the crowd responding in turn as the anthemic chorus breaks down into roaring applause that might have closed the album if not for the band busting into a final chorus. It’s so spontaneous, freewheeling and fun
that it manages to embody many of those intangible qualities that separate a legendary concert from a merely good one. It’s in finding these qualities that Viva Terlingua becomes not just one of the all-time great live country albums, but one of the great live albums of any genre.