Sturgill Simpson – Beacon Theatre – September 19, 2015
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