Don't fret if you haven't caught a Gnomes show yet.
"Gnomes aren't out to be seen," explains upright-bass player Dave Bruchmann, looking especially gnomish in his tufted red goatee. "They usually like to stay in the inner forest — under trails, under trees."
In the beginning, the acoustic Lawrence trio shared its namesake's predilection for covert activity. While painting his friend Rob Shoffner's house, Bruchmann repeatedly listened to Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn — the band's only album to feature Syd Barrett before his psychotic episodes became too crippling. Discovering a mutual affection for Barrett's ensuing solo albums, Shoffner and Bruchmann began working up Barrett's one-of-a-kind songs with double bass and banjo. A call to guitarist Jason Gordon cemented the lineup of what might have been the world's first bluegrass-style Syd Barrett cover band.
"That just means playing it as fast as possible on acoustic instruments," Shoffner says. "Everybody knows the big Pink Floyd albums, but even the most hardcore music fans don't know Barrett's solo albums."
Given that Barrett was immersed in a cloud of mind-altering chemicals during the sessions for The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, learning those tunes presented a host of complications for the Gnomes.
"They tend to change time signatures or have no time signature at all," Bruchmann says. "A lot of it was just Barrett going off by himself with a guitar. Overdubs must have been an engineer's nightmare."
Toss in whimsical lyrics such as Trip trip to a dream dragon/Hide your wings in a ghost tower, and you've got a recipe for a quick trip to the asylum. But the noble Gnomes persevered and soon worked up enough material to perform on the streets of Lawrence outside of Free State Brewery and the Replay Lounge. Before you could say Grimble Grumble, the Replay added the Gnomes to its short list of go-to bands.
"We play so the sound guy can get paid when a touring act cancels," Bruchmann says. "If you're practicing at a bar, is that a show?"
These days, the Gnomes book shows the conventional way — piggybacking their friends' bands (Gordon plays guitar for GCDC, and Bruchmann plays bass for Tiny Tuxedo). The trio performed on Stage Five at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, last September and has since become a fixture at the Gaslight Tavern. This spring, they'll pack up their strap-on beards and gnome hats and do a brief tour of Colorado.
They'll have plenty of time to get into character en route.
"We've started to develop our own Syd Barrett-based language that we throw around," Bruchmann says. "It's mostly wordplay to associate sounds and rhymes and examinations of pastoral whimsy."
The Madcap would be proud.