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Sturgil Simpsons @ Joe's Pub 7/15/2015 (by Chris); backstage w/ Byrne
While listening to Sturgill Simpson sing about Buddha, turtles, and DMT at the first of his first two sold-out shows at Joe's pub last night, I was reminded of a song by another Texas country band -- Eleven Hundred Springs -- called "Long haired hippies freaks." Looking at Sturgill's new album, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, that description is not far off. Yet, this is what the outlaw country of Billie Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson eschewed in their songs. Sturgill's album is not the typical one you hear coming out of Nashville these days, and he makes no qualms about that. He hasn't gotten praise from that music scene but rather from the likes of Daytrotter, NPR, Fader, and even Rolling Stone (though Joseph Hudak was once managing editor Country Weekly magazine). Even the ubiquitous New Yorker, David Byrne, is a fan and was seen tapping his foot at Joe's Pub after meeting with Sturgill at his show. Sturgill said, "I almost pooped myself" (or something to that effect) when he saw the onetime Talking Heads singer backstage.
Yet, his songs transcend the generic outlaw country themes, particularly "Just Let Go" in which he croons out about how he's going to "transmigrate" to some otherworldy destination that's inexplicably beautiful. Maybe he was high on ayahuasca in the backwoods of New Mexico while writing this or maybe he's just writing what comes from his heart -- like on his song about his grandfather, "Hero," from his first full length album High Top Mountain that he released last year. Who the hell knows, but he just finished three sold-out NYC shows, topped off with a Letterman performance. (Video of that below.) Not bad in a city that has no country radio station.
His four-piece band sounded impressive playing above the rumblings of the downtown 6 Train, particularly Laur Joamets whose electric guitar prowess provided a tight loop that pulled the band together and also complements Sturgill's twang. The set alternated between his two albums, from a bluegrassy "Sitting Here Without You" to the whispers of Waylon's ghost reverberating through "Life of Sin" to a cover of Lefty Frizzel's "I Never Go Around Mirrors" which Sturgill totally makes into his own.
So is Sturgill Simpson a country saviour? I like his songs but it's too early to tell. The Nashville scene that has scorned him in the past is now clamoring to be a part of this outlaw wonder. No matter what, I hope he still keeps on playing.
Check out photos from both Joe's Pub sets (including ones of early show openers the DuPont Brothers), the setlist and Letterman video, below...
Sturgill Simpson: Life of Sin
Late show by P Squared
SETLIST: Sturgil Simpson @ Joe's Pub 7/15/2014 (Early Set)
Long White Line
Life of Sin
Livin' the Dream