Tag Archives: T. Rex


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

September 21st, 2015

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



Sturgill Simpson Transforms Music Hall into a Honky-Tonk

February 13th, 2015

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

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


The Soulful Benjamin Booker Plays the Early Show at Mercury Lounge

April 2nd, 2014

Benjamin Booker is a soulful, gritty singer-songwriter and guitarist who’s recently signed with ATO Records after moving from Florida to New Orleans to pursue a career in music. American Songwriter describes him as “a well-mixed musical cocktail of punk, folk and New Orleans blues,” some of which may have to do with his disparate musical influences, like Blind Willie Johnson, T. Rex and the Gun Club. The Guardian says that while he’s only 21, he “has vocal chords that sound as if they’ve been soaking in neat bourbon for at least twice that long.” Booker (above, playing “Violent Shiver”), who performs alongside drummer (and mandolinist) Max Norton, is a bit of a mystery, thanks to a minimal Internet presence. And although his debut album is due to arrive this fall, you don’t have to wait to see this emerging talent because he plays the early show tomorrow at Mercury Lounge.


A Young Band Gracefully Matures

July 25th, 2013

Smith Westerns – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 24, 2013

Taking the stage last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg in front of an intentionally blurred-out backdrop, Chicago’s Smith Westerns blazed through an intentionally fuzzed-out set of their increasingly unique post-glam-punk rock and roll. The set opened with a pair off 2011’s name-maker album, Dye It Blonde, including a loose three-guitar “End of the Night.” Between songs, frontman Cullen Omori’s banter felt like perfunctory chitchat, unfinished anecdotes that just stood in the way of more rock and roll.

The two things you usually read about the Smith Westerns are that they’re young and that they write amazing throwback T.Rex/Mott the Hoople–esque songs beyond their years. As time goes on, though, the first thing is obviously becoming less and less the case, but the second still remains true while the band forges its own voice. As they moved into the newer material from their latest, Soft Will, this became increasingly clear: the raw energy of the two-year-old material making way for pro-polished songs like “Idol” and “Best Friend.” The band sounded sharper as well, guitars not losing their swirling-reverb edge, but delivering it with more focused oomph.

As each song flamed in its three-minute glory, the audience loosened up and the Westerns flashed some of their studio brilliance onstage—a few years of gigging will do that for you. Multiple songs, like “All Die Young,” were described as “sad” but proved to be highlights. The quick-and-dirty set proper closed with a triumphant “Smile,” the Smith Westerns sounding as good as ever and yet brimming with even more potential greatness. They admirably claimed they don’t “do encores,” yet although they didn’t leave the stage, Smith Westerns still played two songs after claiming they’d played their last, which counts as an encore in my book. The night finished with “Varsity,” the first single off of Soft Will, but certainly not the last we’ll hear from Smith Westerns. —A. Stein