Old Crow Medicine Show | 11.02.07

live_oldcrow.jpgThroughout the night, charismatic lead singer Ketch Secor whipped his band into a frenzy at the drop of a hat. His sporadically bowed fiddle revels with bumblebee agility over intricately plucked banjos, guitars and double bass.

 

 

The Pageant, St. Louis

Old Crow Medicine Show transformed The Pageant into a turn-of-the-century dance hall from the deep-south on a Friday night. The kind of dance hall you might imagine in a certain Cohen Brothers’ film; one of splintered and stained wood on the outside, filled with all the plain-spoken, dirt-ridden aches of yesteryear that make life, at the same time, miserable and worth living. The Nashville-native quintet spins an eclectic musical spool, lifting songs and melodies from artists like Leadbelly to Bob Dylan. Throughout the night, charismatic lead singer Ketch Secor whipped his band into a frenzy at the drop of a hat. His sporadically bowed fiddle revels with bumblebee agility over intricately plucked banjos, guitars and double bass.

As the five men casually walked to the small circle of instruments and monitors in the middle of the stage, a strange dichotomy emerged. Their songs are conveyed with such an old-fashioned patience, I associated its creation to a troupe of Willy Nelson look-alikes. Imagine my surprise, then, when out pranced five young, clean-shaven, well dressed men, not the grey-haired, bearded baby boomers I imagined.

The group plucked and howled for over three hours that night, splitting up two lengthy sets with a small break. The room took on the atmosphere of a mid-summer festival, as Secor urged the crowd to get their feet moving and their throats singing. Most of their songs take on an up-tempo, joyous personage when performed, contrasting the studio versions which are more refined and patiently ebb along. The group’s biggest hit was no exception. When these banjo-toting song-sleuths whipped out "Wagon Wheel," the audience roared with ominous recognition. Secor’s familiar chorus, lifted from a Dylan song, exemplifies what this band does best, transforming the familiar into the unique by reinventing what’s around them.

This party-like atmosphere was punctuated by moments of earnest sincerity. In songs like "We’re All in This Together," the group croons in unison over sparse instrumentation. The lyrics hint at the temporary nature of existence, using southern-fried modesty and religiosity to elude that death is the great equalizer. Secor’s words are even more prevalent live, singing, "All we are is a picture in a mirror/ fancy shoes to grace our feet/ All there is is a slow road to freedom/ heaven above and the devil beneath."

After an evening of good natured, blue grassy folk tunes, including two encores, the group thankfully waved to the enthusiastic audience as they meandered offstage, continuing on their tour westward. As a perennial touring act, and frequent guest of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from these steel-stringed, boot-tapping Southern songsters. | Glen Elkins

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