Published on August 17th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant


Concert Review: Sturgill Simpson (Saskatoon)

Sturgill Simpson has brought an amazingly talented band with him as he tours across Canada to promote his latest album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a great crowd for Sturgill Simpson on Saturday night at O’Brian’s Event Centre. Other than a few music nerds I know, I wasn’t sure how many people would be into the rising country star. If you know of Simpson, you know he doesn’t fit into the current modern country sound (the current state of which is the aural equivilent of a garbage full of desolation, to put it politely). He’s more at home with the old school outlaws of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, putting his own soul or psychy spin on those classic notions.

The show was a strange crowd of shitkickers, but it made sense on certain levels too; horn-rimmed hipsters, full on wrangler and hat wearing cowboys, and grizzled, bearded old extras from Sons of Anarchy. I suppose, about whom you’d expect at such an affair. More than a few dudes knew all the words to the songs too, which was also encouraging.

It would be stupid to fall into shitty music writer hyperbole and call the show some kind of transformative moment, but it was definitely inspiring. It stirred me as a musician. As a music listener. And as a guy that likes to hoot and holler after he’s a few drinks in. What made it so inspiring wasn’t some far flung pie in the sky notion about the ethereal nature of music, in fact, quite the opposite. Sturgill and his band were simply a prime example of a solid, road-tested band doing what they do best.

Simpson is one of the best country songwriters alive right now, but his smartest move on the road was to surround himself with brilliant musicians, and not be afraid that they’d steal his spotlight. He melts into the band, and the band is stellar, which makes his compositions rise into the light. You get how that works?

I don’t know specifics about who the band are, but my guess is a bunch of wicked Nashville session/touring guys. The guitarist only made a handful of actual facial expressions while paradoxically running through some ripping chickin’ pickin’. The organist, the bassist, and the pedal steel player were similarly talented.

But it was the horn section that really brought the show together. A trombone, a sax, and a trumpet, small but effective, transposed the Muscle Shoals vibe of the latest album to the stage. And while most of the musicians got to take little solos throughout the show, it was the fuckin’ trombone guy that blew my hair back. That’s a hard instrument to play — it’s all done by ear and muscle memory, and this guy was on fire.

My only complaint might be more sound-related than anything. Simpson seemed to be playing an acoustic guitar that you couldn’t really hear all night. As well, I was waiting for one of my favourite cuts, ‘Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)’ for a good chunk of the night. When they finally threw it down, they played it well, but the sound was quite anemic. Could be that it was missing the piano part that anchors it.

But aside from those extremely minor observations, the downbeat songs were glorious as Sturgill poured out his guts, sounding even better live than on the studio recordings. And the place rocked with more banging and bashing than a thrash concert during the boogie-woogie uptempo numbers. It was one of the best live musical performances that I’ve seen in awhile.

The show was a seamless example of what more bullshit musicians should spend time doing — observing their craft in workmanlike fashion. A guy like Sturgill Simpson could save country music, if we’d only just let him.


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About the Author

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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