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Review: Sturgill Simpson at Old National Centre

A flawless set from start to finish.


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On Saturday, May 21 in the sold-out Egyptian Room, Sturgill Simpson proved the antidote to country music’s bland hat rock and beer ‘n’ truck bros that's so prevalent in Nashville and country music radio today.

As Merle Haggard said in Garden & Gun’s April/May 2016 issue, “I think he’s about the only thing I’ve heard that was worth listening to in a long time, to be real honest.” Haggard goes on to say about the current state of country music, “If it’s like what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit. I can’t say anything good about it. I wish I could.”

Sturgill wrote his new album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth as a guide to his newborn son on how to navigate life. He blends outlaw country with rock, and his addition of horns to outlaw country on the new album is reminiscent of the Memphis horns of Stax or Motown.

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Simpson kicked off the show with “Sitting Here Without You” from his debut album High Top Mountain. The horn section (trumpet, sax, baritone sax, and trombone) is a beautiful addition to his previous albums' tracks. The first 12 songs in the set were from his first two albums and covers from Willie Nelson, When In Rome, and Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. I never thought I would hear a countrified version of “When The Levee Breaks” in my life and Sturgill and his band knocked it out of the park. Laur Joamets scorched on lead guitar with a Gibson Thunderbird, custom Fender and another custom guitar, and also shined on pedal steel. Sturgill also played some amazing lead guitar on acoustic Gibson and black Gibson hollow body. He played hits “Turtles All the Way Down,” “Life of Sin,” and “It Ain’t All Flowers” from Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.

After a near flawless set of a dozen songs, Indianapolis was witness to Sturgill and company playing A Sailor’s Guide To Earth from start to finish. Usually music fans can only see an album played in its entirety at music festivals like Pitchfork. The album translated perfectly to a live setting. The horns were loud and and on point and left everyone dancing. Hammond B3 organ was another added touch on this tour.

Sturgill also played his version of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” from the new album that totally made it a new country version of a beautiful song. “Keep It Between The Lines,” “Brace For Impact” and “Call To Arms” were also standouts from the new album. Sturgill Simpson and band played for over two hours and the entire room, old and young were sweaty and dancing the entire show. The sound was great — the only complaint I had was it could have been louder.

It’s very exciting to see country music being restored to the glory days of the 1970s and before through Sturgill Simpson. After the third song, “Long White Line,” Sturgill thanked Indianapolis for our support. He mentioned how he first played the Sun King Brewery Session from MOKB Presents and MonkeyEatsMonkey, then Radio Radio and The Vogue. Thanks to Dodge and the fine folks at MOKB Presents, Indianapolis has been able to ride with Sturgill on his ascension from newcomer to debut at #3 on Billboard Magazine’s Top 200 chart. This show, like all of the previous ones was high energy and flawless from start to finish. It will be exciting to see where Sturgill takes us next.


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