Tag Archives: Sturgill Simpson

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A Rowdy Night of Real-Deal Country Music with Wheeler Walker Jr.

June 7th, 2017

Wheeler Walker Jr. – The Bowery Ballroom – June 6, 2017

(Photo: Courtesy of Thirty Tigers)

Is the country music of today really country? Sure, the artists all over CMT and country radio are crammed down our throats with that label bedazzled onto their artificially frayed denim vests, but calling these artists real country is as backward as the Bud Light trucker hats these musicians sport in their gaudy music videos. The Outlaws have been replaced by the Bros, and it’s safe to say that Nashville needs a hero to bust down the saloon doors to dole out some serious comeuppance to the perpetrators at the top of the charts. That hero is Wheeler Walker Jr. and bringing real country music to New York City was his goal when he played The Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night. Well, sort of anyways. (More on that later.) Opening the show, Nashville’s Republican Hair treated the crowd to a short but fun set that equally paid homage and skewered some of the touchstones of ’80s rock radio: A little dash of Rick Springfield here, a little sprinkle of the Cars and Prince there. Wild frontman Luke Dick whipped the crowd into a frenzy as he performed their final songs within the audience. Once their time was up, the band (excluding Dick) made a quick costume change into some proper honky-tonk attire and assumed the role of the backing band for the artist with the biggest print on the marquee.

Fans roared with excitement as Wheeler Walker Jr. took the stage, and their enthusiasm never faded throughout his hour-long set. A provocateur and world-class shit-talker, Walker Jr. (the alias of comedian Ben Hoffman of the short-lived Comedy Central Show The Ben Show) has been taking Music City to task ever since the release of his debut Redneck Shit last year and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down on his brand-new album, Ol’ Wheeler. Throughout the music, he takes shots at all of the front-runners in the biz and manages to sneak in some twisted ballads in between. If you’re in on the joke, it’s an absolute laugh riot. But having said that, his songwriting chops are palpable, and superproducer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell) brings a real-deal authenticity to his recordings. If you’re not paying attention, a song like “Fuck You Bitch” might just sound like one of the best country ballads of the past few years.

Walker Jr. treated the crowd to a mix of both of his albums, and it was a trip to see fans with their fists in the air singing along to the likes of “Better Off Beatin’ Off” and “Eatin’ Pussy/Kickin’ Ass.” His band was top-notch and could have just as easily melted your heart with delicate pedal-steel guitar on one song and then set the room ablaze on the next. The crowd was fully onboard, chanting, “Wheeler” and even flinging half-empty beers onto the stage in between songs. At one point, as Walker introduced the new song “Poon,” a takedown of Nashville’s top-tier recording artists, he was greeted by some boos when he described his intense hatred of the band Florida Georgia Line. But he quickly felt the need to clarify his reasoning: “I’m sorry,” said Walker Jr. as he took a sip from a can of Tecate, “but if you play country and you’re name ain’t me, then fuck you.” The crowd was won back in a flash and sang along loud enough to fill the Bowery up to its rafters. It was a rowdy night of red-blooded real-deal country music that was truly one to remember. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing

 

 

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Sturgill Simpson Dazzles Rough Trade NYC with New Album

April 20th, 2016

Sturgill Simpson – Rough Trade NYC – April 19, 2016

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Give it up for a little truth in advertising. The show was billed as “Sturgill Simpson: A Special Performance of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” at Rough Trade NYC in Brooklyn at 8:30 p.m., and that’s exactly what it was. Beginning right on time and running right through the brand new album start to finish, Tuesday’s show was Simpson in all his glory—and it was, without a doubt, special. With his regular band augmented by a three-piece trombone/trumpet/sax horn section, they thrilled an as-packed-as-I’ve-ever-seen it Rough Trade with standout live versions of every track, pushing the boundaries of genre.

So often these run-through-the-album shows have a stilted feeling as bands readjust between songs and try to recreate magic from studio sessions months in the past. This was not a problem for Simpson and Co., who showed that Sailor’s Guide plays like a live set with built-in peaks and valleys and a steady balance of oven-hot and freezer-cool songs. The audience was aflame from the get-go, but “Keep It Between the Lines” seemed to push things further with pedal steel and a blaring horns creating worlds-colliding magic behind Simpson’s once-in-a-generation tenor. Country has opened its arms to other types of music before, but over the course of his last two albums, Simpson seems to be doing the opposite: putting outlaw country on his back and carrying it straight to the mountains of soul, old school R&B and, of course, rock and roll.

Early in the set, Simpson joked that it was easy to separate the fans from the press because it was clear who was there to have fun and who was standing there “silently judging.” By the time the band reached their excellent take-ownership cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” Simpson crooning, microphone in hand, while the steel-and-brass band cruised beautifully behind him, it was clear that everyone’s judgment, silent or not, was that they were indeed lucky to be in the room. As if designed for a live performance, the album builds in its second half with the chunky-monkey rock and roll bass-drums-guitar of “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)” and Simpson’s voice proving to be there with the best of them, taking the crowd up and up in “All Around You.” The emotions in those songs are real, and he paused to catch himself, telling the crowd “Remind me that next time I make a record about my life, I have to go out there and sing that fucking shit.” “Call to Arms” was a primal scream of a show closer, Simpson literally howling into the microphone as the overheated horn section filled the room with sound while the rhythm section got the crowd’s heart racing one last time. And that was that, a very special album-release show—no encore promised, certainly no encore necessary. How’s that for truth in advertising? —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Sturgill Simpson’s Marathon Evening of Outlaw Country at the Beacon

September 21st, 2015

Sturgill Simpson – Beacon Theatre – September 19, 2015

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In this era of social media, it seems like every day is some weird, made-up holiday. Over the weekend, I think we “celebrated” National Cheeseburger Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day. After taking in Sturgill Simpson’s rollicking set at the Beacon Theatre, I believe everyone was ready to declare Saturday Cosmic Country Day, with Simpson the patron saint. Having just recently won Artist of the Year and Song of the Year at the Americana Awards, Simpson was more than ready to make the leap to the Broadway stage as the lights went down and a kind-of-spacey ambient music filled the room, the band silhouetted against the red curtain and the crowd rearing to go. As the curtain went up, the music took shape into “Some Days,” everyone in the audience hopped to their feet and a marathon evening of outlaw country revival was underway.

During the first couple of songs it wasn’t hard to make the connection to those Beacon Theatre stalwarts, the Allman Brothers Band, with Simpson’s crack band stretching the bounds of their intergalactic country with sharp rock and roll climbs, guitarist Laur Joamets delighting with his skillful and passionate playing. “Life of Sin” played the piano and organ off each other as Simpson howled, “Sex is cheap and talk is overrated,” as the crowd hollered and danced along. After the barn-blazer opening, the band cooled down and let Simpson and his sweet glazed-donut voice take over. On songs like “Water in a Well,” he simply filled the room with his vocals, perhaps a sly wink when singing, “Someday if I’m on a big stage.” During these quieter moments, the audience soaked it up in silence.

The set bounced around between the rowdy and the soulful, with the highlights in those spaces in between where the perfect balance of Simpson’s singing and the band’s playing scratched every itch. Emotional passages from Simpson made way for longer jam-outs for the band, Joamets adding that cosmic twang and awe-inspiring licks as the band played along. It’s no surprise that the biggest cheers of the night came when the whole band was introduced. At several points, the set seemed to be drawing to a close, like after a milking-it, soulful organ-fueled cover of “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” made famous by Otis Redding, or the tripped-out, crowd-pleasing “Turtles All the Way Down” or the late-set section of covers of old-school country from Lefty Frizzell and Terry Allen. But each time, Simpson and Co. threw another shovel of coal on the fire and kept on chugging. Finally, after almost two hours, they finished with “Listening to the Rain,” the band dropping into their rock-out cover of T. Rex’s “The Motivator,” a bit of Americana garage rock just in case the audience hadn’t gotten the memo yet about what holiday it was.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

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Sturgill Simpson Transforms Music Hall into a Honky-Tonk

February 13th, 2015

Sturgill Simpson – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 12, 2015

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Without notice, a new honky-tonk opened on a stretch of N. 6th in Williamsburg near
the East River. Or maybe it just felt that way last night as the Music Hall hostedt to a rollicking set of country music courtesy of Sturgill Simpson and his excellent band. The room was as packed as it’s ever been, the crowd was hitched up and ready to go, and Simpson seemed larger than life onstage, delivering a dominating performance from start to finish. His sound owes much to the outlaw country greats of yore—Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash quickly come to mind—but Simpson proved throughout the show that his is an evolved country for the modern day.

To listen to Simpson sing songs from his best-in-genre 2014 release, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, is to listen to someone born to play this kind of music. His voice was like a fine Kentucky bourbon with a blend of flavors deserving of its own language to describe: oaky with hints of smoke and cinnamon, maybe. The set built like a good whiskey buzz, the aroma, the bite of the first sip on songs like “Long White Line” and “Voices,” the taste turning into a warm sensation in the belly. With each succeeding song, the sensation moved to the head and then a whole-body experience, alternating between soulful introspection and shoe-stomping fun. Much of that giddy feeling was due to Simpson’s stellar backing band, led by Laur Joamets on guitar, who seemed to contain all of country guitar playing in his single Telecaster. He impressively alternated between lightning-fast picking, beautiful slow-and-steady slide guitar, which often took on shades of a steel guitar, and then swirling galactic twang.

As the show built a head of steam, the crowd followed along in their gleeful whiskey drunk, chattering and jostling back and forth to the bar became dancing, whooping and hollering. The second half of the show was an avalanche of superlative country music. “It Ain’t All Flowers” had the packed house shouting along before opening up into one of several belt-hitching rock-out jams that seamlessly transitioned into the quieter “The Promise.” Next, “Railroad of Sin” reached the night’s most frenetic moment, with Joamets, Simpson, Kevin Black on bass and Miles Miller on drums as a locomotive in danger of hopping off the tracks, the dance floor exploding with a manic energy. After a triumphant, cathartic take on his self-professed favorite song on the new album, “Just Let Go,” Simpson’s voice as strong as it had been all night, the show closed with a crowd-pleasing sing-along on “Turtles All The Way Down,” leaving everyone feeling boozy and elated and wondering if there was still time for one more shot before hitting the road. The band obliged the thunderous ovation with two fingers of Simpson spirits, a soulful crooning of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” (“for the ladies”), his voice nearly channeling Otis Redding,  and finally a cover of the Osborne Brothers’ “Listening to the Rain,” which opened into a full-fledged T. Rex cover before looping back around to finish out in didn’t-think-it-could-be-topped fashion. Simpson and Co. exited the stage to more raucous applause and then, the strangest thing, that new honky-tonk disappeared. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Contest

Grow a Pair: Win Free Tickets to See Sturgill Simpson on 2/11

February 3rd, 2015

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Sturgill Simpson has been riding high since going solo in 2013. He’s currently making his way across the country, which brings him to New York City next week to play The Bowery Ballroom on 2/11 and Music Hall of Williamsburg on 2/12. Both shows are sold out, but since The House List wants to give you one more shot to see this cosmic cowboy perform live, we’re giving away two tickets to see him next Wednesday at The Bowery Ballroom. Want to go? Try to Grow a Pair. Just fill out the form below, making sure to include your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Sturgill Simpson, 2/11) and a brief message explaining your favorite song on his second album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Eddie Bruiser, who always listens to the whole thing straight through, will notify the winner by next Wednesday. Good luck.

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