Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Guest Blogger: Old Crow Medicine Show in New York City

Ken Dixon, who has previously blogged for us about the Saratoga Music Festival, checks in with this report from the weekend:

The applause was so loud last Saturday, toward the end of the Old Crow Medicine Show set above the bouncing floor at Webster Hall in the East Village, that I had plug my ears with my fingers. Or maybe it was someone else’s fingers, since we were jammed so tightly together there up toward the front of the stage. The crowd just didn’t want OCMS to leave after 28 tunes spanning two hours.

The Fire Department sign at the back of the ballroom said capacity was 390 people, and there must have been 100 more upstairs for a set where a punk sensibility melded with the modest tools of a string band to inspire isolated instances of square-dancing-cum-slam-dancing that may also have been an ancillary effect of the Mets win over Florida.

Indeed, front man Ketch Secor – unaware that the Mets were on track to lose Sunday and sweep themselves out of the playoffs – introduced the band members as oldtime Mets. I didn’t pick up on it until the end, the ambient roar of the crowd was so loud, but I believe that Critter Fuqua, the resonator guitar and banjo man, was offered up to the crowd as “Gil Hodges” the former Brooklyn Dodger who managed the Miracle Mets of 1969. It all happened so fast, but I believe Secor introduced guitarist/singer Willie Watson as “Mookie Wilson,” the former Mets centerfielder on the World Series champs of 1986. It was a playful end to a show that had turned the old ballroom’s dance floor into a trampoline bed.

I don’t play music with enough people steeped in the music of OCMS, so when I sing “Wagon Wheel,” or “I Hear Them All” off the top of my head with a few friends, it’s different. But here were hundreds of people, mostly 20-somethings, singing along to every line. It’s testament to the timelessness of OCMS’s tunes and also I believe, years of relentless touring on college campuses.

The set began shortly after 8 p.m. with the traditional “Fire on the Mountain” and “Poor Man” and delved back and forth into their new recording “Tennessee Pusher,” which includes several cautionary tales about the true destructive power of methamphedamine (as opposed to the raucous winks they give twice each set to the anti-cocaine “Tell It To Me.”). I like the CD, although producer Don Was has included Beatles buddy Jim Keltner on drums on seven tunes. I don’t like drums with my banjos.

There was a lot of square-dance stompers among the first seven tunes, then “I Hear Them All,” brought forth Secor and David Rawlings’ hope for peace and coexistence in a huge singalong. By the tenth song, after the first from “Tennessee Pusher,” they broke into “James River Blues,” a meditation about the end of river cargo at the beginning of the railroad era.

The second set started with the traditional “Sally Ann,” then Kevin Hayes, the guit-jo player, sang “Humdinger,” which he wrote for the new CD. It might have the funniest line from the new work: “We got wine, whiskey, women and guns. How can you afford not to have any fun.” The first rendition of “Tell It to me,” was the fifteenth song, followed by “Wagon Wheel,” on which Watson/Wilson capoed his guitar up two frets, turning it into “A” instead of “G,” for you players out there.

The 20th song was “Union Maid,” which segued into “Caroline,” the last song on the new album (“You just feel fine…”). The crowd wouldn’t accept just one encore and even “Tell It To Me” again didn’t sate the audience. Finally, after “Take Me Back To That Shack No. 9,” and a quick version of “CC Rider” (I prefer the slower, sad version of it on the early O.C.M.S. record where you can almost imagine the jilted lover seeing the sunset in his girlfriend’s eyes), the lights went up, and we slowly herded ourselves down the two flights of stairs to East 11th Street. Outside, an entirely different crowd was waiting to get in for a dance party.

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