Sturgill Simpson - The Tunnels, Bristol
If you’ve even a passing interest in the country music scene you’ll have heard of Sturgill Simpson. High profile interviews with Rolling Stone, The Telegraph, and of course here at TMF, have all led to him being anointed as the brightest light in the scene, the saviour of country music even. He doesn’t see it like that himself, but hey, labels can be hard to shake.
The first time I saw the Kentucky native he was on his own, delivering some astonishingly powerful country music with nowt but an acoustic guitar for company. Now two albums into his career - High Top Mountain and Metamodern Sounds In Country Music - he goes from strength to strength. This is his first time in the UK with his band, transported from the US intact, and it's a very different show from his previous visits.
As expected, having his band with him brings a completely different dimension to his show, although the quiet reverence from the audience that he’s spoken about before still remains (as a raft of expectant faces look at him during a between song guitar tune-up, “Right, now I’m seeing something that we don’t ever see in the States…”). The band are great: drums and bass drive the songs on; they’re particularly effective on the fast-paced tracks like the brilliant ‘Some Days’, with the Telecaster-wiedling Little Joe (“Least that’s what we call him”) running rampant in the extended coda to that and other tunes.
With his smart new haircut in tow, the 36 year old singer-songwriter runs through the gamut of songs: the emotion-laced ‘Water In The Well’; the weirdy beardy lyrical dance of ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, and the show stopping final duo of ‘It Ain’t All Light’ which eschews the psychedelia of the album version for a noisy, dirty bluesy live take. ‘The Promise’ and its echoes of Elvis Presley’s ‘In The Ghetto’ is another highlight.
Simpson is a laconic, amusing, and relaxed stage presence, and his band are a tight, serious set of musicians that are capable of some five fingered fury when required. With the seemingly unstoppable rise of Americana in the UK, the opportunity to see acts like this in intimate settings has increased, but for Simpson and others spearheading the scene, these smaller venues will soon be swapped out for something grander. Catch 'em while you can.