Gossip and Bonnie Montgomery
Sept. 27, Brooklyn Bowl
Arkansas was well represented in New York last week as Bonnie Montgomery opened for Gossip at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Both Montgomery and Gossip's Beth Ditto and Nathan Howdeshell hail from White County originally, and Bonnie still calls Little Rock home.
Montgomery has opened on several recent Gossip tour dates throughout the Northeast and Canada, accompanied by guitarist Howdeshell. In Brooklyn, the duo rolled through equally enjoyable originals and covers, and did a surprisingly good job of filling a large room with chugging acoustic guitar and plucky, countryish electric guitar melodies and solos. They made an odd pair visually, with Bonnie in her trademark frilly white, country-blue checked dress and Nathan with his '80s dad-frame glasses and Flock of Seagulls hairdo, but they made a nice blend of country music that was well received by the few hundred attendees. She made shout-outs to Arkansans in the room. Arkansans shouted back. They played an up-tempo, nearly danceable version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Mid-way through Montgomery's set Beth Ditto joined them on stage and sang Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." I imagined the three of them as teen-agers sitting on a porch in White County learning the song and wondering when they would move to the big city.
Gossip came on refreshingly gentle with Ditto chatting to the crowd as though they were old friends, cutting through any pretense that might have been otherwise expected from a big-time pop-art-rock-dance band playing in Williamsburg's newest venue/bowling alley/restaurant (featuring fried chicken touted on "Best Things I Ever Ate"). She still has some Southern twang in her speaking voice, particularly evident when she says things like, "I'm jus gonna set my drink down right chere on this log." She told one bowler sitting behind the speakers where the stage meets the lanes that he only came "because your gay friends made you," which got the biggest laugh of the night. After the chit-chat, the band launched into an intense, energetic set, and the crowd immediately started singing and moving.
Tight barely describes the level Gossip is performing at after touring the world for some-odd years now. The band is in that sweet-spot where they play well enough to fill arena, but are still occasionally playing venues small enough to receive their full effect. At one point Ditto belted a bar so loud that you could hear the speakers ripping apart, and at other times she let the crowd help sing the sweeter falsetto melodies. It only took two or three songs before the dancing reached all the way to the back of the 600-person venue.
After the show Montgomery said that she was pleased to have had "an Arkansas night" while out on the road. With so many Arkansans in attendance, it was a rare occasion to feel right at home a long way from home, and to see some Arkansas musicians that are on top of the world be down to earth in the hippest neighborhood in the country.