The rising popularity of this singer/songwriter, acclaimed in some quarters as a saviour of country music, was reflected by the ever growing audience he has attracted with each appearance in Dublin. However it was something of a odd live experience in that Simpson, who was in fine voice and humour, seemed at something of a loss due to the fact that he was unable to play any new material from his forthcoming major label debut. This was because. he explained, that such material would then be up on the internet before it got a chance to be heard in its original recorded form.
The set tonight largely consisted of songs from his two album with (naturally) Turtles All The Way Down getting the best recognition and response of the night. He also told the attentive audience that he had hoped to bring his band with him but after almost two years on the road they want to stay warm at home. But next time he’d be bringing an even bigger band with him. Something that may be appropriate when the new album is finally released. A 22 song set was played but no encore - a fact that seemed to annoy some of those present.
The constant touring has definitely given his voice an edge and his guitar playing was dexterous enough to give the songs their depth. Considering it was only his voice and guitar that was there to hold sway. Ireland along with Scotland and parts of England where his favourite places to play he quipped, adding that in the US, no matter the size of venue or ticket price, the audience generally talked all through a show rather than really listening. Something he appreciated when playing here. He spent some time getting his errant guitar in tune which gave the audience time to deliver some requests and comments. Playing a requested Hank Sr. or Rory Gallagher song were passed over but he did perform his version of Roy Orbison’s Crying; his voice adding a different but equally heartbreaking tone to the lyrics. Other covers included Lefty Frizzell’s I Never Go Round Mirrors as well as Carter Stanley’s Old Love Letters and the traditional Handsome Molly. A song he felt came from “these parts” adding that bluegrass music had be pretty much stolen wholesale from these isles.
Another cover, one he has recorded, was his version of I’d Have To Be Crazy by Steve Fromholz. He quipped that the late songwriter had lived long enough to give a negative comment on his version. One of the best things about achieving a level of success, he noted, was getting to meet some of his heroes. People that had inspired him and who he had been introduced to by his grandfather. At this point he briefly left the stage as he said he wanted to share something with the audience and returned with his mobile phone. He first took some shots of the crowd before playing us a message that he’d had recently received from Merle Haggard. He then said that he’d been trying to get Merle to come to Europe with him to play. A notion that got a big round of applause.
Other asides included his decision to stay away from social media as “life is complex enough”. Telling us that if he was going to spent time writing the best use of his time would be writing a song. Having played in Belfast the night before he said he had been listening to Astral Weeks in his hotel room. “I don’t know were Ladbroke Grove is but I don’t want to go there” he joked. It was that kind of an evening loose, relaxed but lacking in a sense of an overall structure. Sturgill Simpson is without doubt an engaging performer, a fine singer, songwriter and guitarist but without a band to riff off or an new material to play he seemed to be there because he had to be and was doing the best he could with these set of circumstances. It was good to see him again and he seemed to be enjoying it, as were those present but hopefully he will be back on these shores again before too long - with both new music and/or band in tow.
Review by Stephen Rapid Photography by Ronnie Norton