Giant Sand : London Barbican Hall

Giant Sand and invited guests as part of the Beyond Nashville festival...

"It's like Christmas," exclaims a visibly chuffed Howe Gelb, as he surveys the 19 musicians around him. Tonight's gig, part of the Beyond Nashville festival, has turned into alt.country's take on one of those An Audience With programmes, with Gelb the star turn, 20-odd albums into his career yet somehow at the peak of his influence.

Gelb's band Giant Sand bookend proceedings and provide eerie backing for numerous invited friends. Complete with two new female guitarists, it's a scarily competent showing from an occasionally wayward live act. 'Sage Advice' is a murderous opening, full of scraping violins, while tonight's first guest Polly Harvey dons a stetson for the trailer park trauma of X's 'Johnny Hit And Run Pauline'. There's also a euphoric cover of Johnny Thunders' 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory' taking in lounge jazz and a groovy organ solo from Gelb.

With a healthy suntan and a slew of fishing anecdotes, Evan Dando is fit again. Sounding sweet as ever, if a tad bruised, he strums through four reflective new compostitons, full of sighed sentiment like "I thought I needed all the things I didn't need at all". Vic Chestnutt is more acerbic, spinning tales of lost innocence, while Lambchop's Kurt Wagner waxes magical about dogs ('New Cobweb Summer' - a taster for the next 'Chop' album) and the John Parish Big Band noodle artfully through dense Mogwai-meets-Morricone instrumentals.

In contrast, Gelb's closest musical contemporary, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse is an understated revelation, wheezing through 'Homecoming Queen' with twin violins and aching harmonies from Harvey. He stays put to tweak his electronic gizmo through a cacaphonic Later-style finale. There are pats on the back all round, and flashbulbs pop onstage to capture the huge standing ovation.

You usually have to die to get tributes like this.

Martin Horsefield

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