Sturgill Simpson Live @ The Tractor Tavern
November 26, 2014
T’was the night before Thanksgiving and Sturgill Simpson played to a sold out house at the Tractor Tavern. For those unfamiliar, Sturgill Simpson is a classic country-style singer from Kentucky who has been referred to as “the savior of the genre.”
Though he doesn’t dress the part of a hillbilly gimmick, decked to the nines in a Stetson with big belt buckles or any of that, Simpson has one of the most powerful voices in contemporary music.
Often compared to Merle Haggard and the similar Western godfathers of the 1950s, Simpson’s music reflects a nostalgic time in country history, before it became the perversion of white, radio pop that it is today.
Many of his songs hold the traditional lyrics of heartbreak downed in whiskey, but he also sings of many topics unconventional to the genre; such as his newest single “Turtles All the Way Down,” from his album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, which touches on the effects of the hallucinogenic drugs “marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and DMT.”
Simpson’s Tractor performance was strong, with little in the way of stage antics to distract attendees from the quality of the music. He didn’t speak with the audience much, opting instead to let his impressive singing – rare in the age of autotune and digital improvements – and the versatile solos of guitarist Laur Joamets do the talking.
Stylistically, Joamets’ guitar technique jumped genres with almost every song; if one guitar solo was traditionally twangy the next would sound more fitting behind a funk rock track on a Prince album. It all added a bit of fresh air to a usually rigid, and often stale, genre.
The show featured a balance of material from the artist’s two proper albums, Metamodern… and High Top Mountain, including my favorite song, “Long White Line,” and the heart-wrenching ballad “The Promise,” in which his vocals were put to the test in matching the high octave belting of the album version. He also included a as a bluegrass cover I was unfamiliar with.
A few weeks ago, I listened to a 3-hour episode Sturgill Simpson did for The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. On that podcast, Simpson talks about living in Seattle for a few years and how the experience left a bad taste in his mouth because this city “eats you alive.” While his first experience with the Emerald City may have been a bitter one, selling out the Tractor to a room full of adoring fans hopefully changed his outlook on the Northwest. When he sang the line “Met the devil in Seattle…” from “Turtles All the Way Down,” it was met with the loudest roar of the night from his rambunctious audience. Simpson had to stop singing because he couldn’t help but laugh.