Review: Sturgill Simpson at Club Dada in Dallas
Beneath the foundation of country music -- too far down, but it's there -- there's a soft shaking. It's a low, quiet rumble that ever so often releases a quick jolt upward. It doesn't reach the foundation, but it's there.
That shake is a symbol of hope. It's not country music's savior. It's country music's defender.
That shake is Sturgill Simpson, and country music is ready for him to bust through its foundation, bring down the walls and blow that son of a bitch sky-high. It's time to rebuild country music, and Simpson is its chief architect.
I was sitting in a Dallas bar in the middle of the afternoon last Saturday (Nov. 15), being your typical 21st century bar patron -- drinking and nose-deep into my iPhone, largely ignoring my friends. I would apologize, but I would find out that a second Simpson show had been added that night at Club Dada in Dallas' Deep Ellum.
Ashamedly, I blew it buying tickets the first go-round for Simpson's show. I wrongfully assumed he wouldn't sell out that fast, and then it was too late. But the music gods showed mercy, and I would be in the crowd for his second set after the show's promoter and Club Dada agreed on another performance since brutal weather moved the show inside, a much smaller area than Dada's outdoor space.
While the larger portion of country fans are still in the dark about Simpson, he was no stranger in Club Dada. He was to the 400-plus packed inside the club that he should be to the millions of country music fans around the world: the top of their musical pyramid, the front row seats to The Beatles in 1965.
He's the artist you dream everyone else would listen to, just once, because you know that one time will change them forever.
There was nothing fancy here. Simpson's band didn't need lights on key with the music, and they didn't need to run around or do choreographed jackassery to get the crowd into it. The asses-to-elbows group was rowdy enough.
The foursome simply walked in and played music that didn't suck for 90 minutes. The Dada crowd knew every word -- loudly -- from the moment Simpson ignited the show with 'Living the Dream' to its end.
Estonian-born guitarist Laur Joamets was masterful on his Telecaster. He plays with the same passion and intensity that you get from Simpson's voice, even breaking two strings in the first set. Simpson's running mates are good enough to fill venues themselves. They broke into minutes-long jam sessions in the middle of several songs, all returning to Simpson on the mic and the already rowdy crowd belting out the words louder than ever.
But Simpson's voice. That was what the crowd came to hear.
The most common comparison you hear or read regarding Simpson is to Waylon Jennings. It's an unfair analogy, but mostly to Simpson. Both voices are unique, but Simpson's Kentucky-drawled vocals are stronger, more dynamic than Jennings'. They resonate not just with that sense of hope, but also pure frustration. Simpson sings like no one has heard his songs for years as bad as he wants, which is true.
He even took a moment to mention his recent rise to a somewhat sense of fanfare -- he's appeared on 'Conan,' 'The Late Show' and 'The Tonight Show' over the last several months and will open for his personal hero Willie Nelson at ACL Live in Austin on Dec. 30. The 36-year-old Simpson said he had been playing music off and on his entire life and he was worried he was too tired and jaded to appreciate the past year he's been filling venues more often than finding them empty.
Simpson played with an enviable sense of honesty that few, if any, of today's country "stars" possess. From the newer songs on his 2014 album 'Metamodern Sounds in Country Music' such as 'Turtles All the Way Down' to older releases such as 'You Can Have the Crown,' you got a flawless taste of who Simpson is and what his music can do.
Don't call Sturgill Simpson the savior of country music. Call him country music's greatest hope and worst enemy. He will be a big part of country music's restoration. And he will do this by opening the door for those who ache for something new while showing modern country fans what real music sounds like.
The genre's had its Waylon, Willie, Johnny, Merle, George and Alan. It's experienced and still sees incredible growth and promise with the Texas/Red Dirt scene.
But there's always room for another to knock the pendulum off its track and own his place on the grand stage, whether its for a song or for decades.
It's Sturgill Simpson's turn. I hope.