Friday, July 06, 2007

Old Crow Medicine Show | Higher Ground | Jun 26

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I have a chance to review of a few of the shows I’ve caught over the past week. First up is Old Crow Medicine Show at Higher Ground.

When I saw OCMS was playing the big room at HG, I figured it would be me and a few dozen other people. I’d never even heard anyone else in VT mention the band. So, when the show sold out, I was stunned. However, when I got there, it all clicked and made sense. I always forget that hippies love bluegrass and the hippies were out in droves.

Now, regular readers know I’ve lovingly joked about hippies numerous times on this site. However, here’s some praise for the tie-dyed clad, bohemians. They are fantastic about supporting live music. I love the music of the indie rock scene but indie fans suck when it comes to showing up for shows. Conversely, jam fans show up in big numbers and actively participate in the show by dancing, cheering and having a good time. Plus, they provide for plenty of giggles while people-watching.

Speaking of which, on the way to the show, we passed an old beat-up Peugeot station wagon with Oregon plates, milk crates on the roof for luggage racks, acoustic guitar case in the trunk and a pair of ponytailed gonzos in the front seat. My friend quickly said, “How much do you want to bet the patchouli-mobile is going to the show?” Sure as shit, while we were waiting to get in, the old clunker rumbled into the parking lot.

There was no opening band which gave us some time to kill before the show. So, I checked out the merch table for a shirt. It was one of the most professional merch tables I’ve ever seen. The lady running it looked like somebody’s mom and was completely on the ball. She knew exactly what was available and where to grab it. Too often, you ask some stoned friend of the band for an XL shirt at a merch table and spend the next five minutes watching him stumble through box after box trying to find the right shirt in the right size. OCMS was much more on the ball. Heck, they even had O.C.M.S. bags to put the stuff in (although I declined the bag). They seem to be a band that has made the decision to make their fortune as a touring band.

The rest of the wait was spent watching hippie chicks stuff their handbags under the soundboard. I guess they think that’s a safe, out-of-sight place to tuck their bags while they’re spinning and twirling. I mentioned to my friend how it seems like they are taking a risk of getting ripped off but he made an excellent point saying, “Come on. What do they have in their bags? About five bucks and a lighter.”

OCMS finally came on around 9pm and played two 45 minute sets with a twenty minute intermission. The first set was dominated by tunes off of Big Iron World while O.C.M.S. filled up most of the second set. They opened the entire show with my favorite song off Big Iron World, “James River Blues”, but the highlight of the set was the beautiful “My Good Gal” which they claimed “came straight out of the Northeast Kingdom”.

In fact, the band laid on the hometown references pretty thick all night long. I always find it patronizing when a non-local band tries to gin up the crowd by referencing local landmarks or saying how much they like the area. So, I was a little turned off by it. However, as a counter-balance, is the band’s infectious happiness. They heavily play up the old-time bluegrass showmanship which is half carnival barker and half friendly drunk at the end of the bar and generally teetering on the edge of amusing and annoying. However, OCMS does a good job with it and prevent it from falling into the latter category.

The highlights of the second set were “Wagon Wheel” and “Big Time in the Jungle” which were performed in straight but pretty versions. One thing I never realized about OCMS before seeing them live was that they have three lead singers. All of their voices are very similar so I had always assumed it was the same guy. However, the songs are split between three of the guys.

Oh, one other thing about hippies. Is it really necessary to cheer wildly for every drug reference in a song? Isn't it a bit infantile at a certain point? Hipsters can be annoying with their faux detachment but it's silly to raise your beer and scream "wooo hooo!" just because the lyric goes "I had a nice long toke".

One bit that OCMS does at every show is use phony names when introducing the band members. Sometimes, it’s obscure baseball players from the 70’s. Other times it’s culprits in the Watergate scandal. This time, at the end of their second set, they took on the names of famous Vermonters. One guy was Robert Frost, another was Ethan Allen and another was Senator Leahy (I missed the other two names). It was kind of funny. The odd thing is that I ran into Senator Leahy this week in Montpelier. I should have told him about it. However, he probably would have just thought I was an idiot. It’s one of those things that is amusing at the show but silly when taken out of context.

They wrapped up the show with a pair of encores including a cover of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”. They did it in the same fashion that Dylan did it during the Rolling Thunder Revue where the lead singer sings the first three-quarters of the song and then all the instruments stop as the full band sings, in choir, the last words of the line. It sounded nice and was a surprising treat.

Overall, it was a fun evening and possibly the best of the three concerts I saw last week. The others, which I’ll get to later, were good but this show had a bit more intensity to it than the relaxed outdoor settings for Wilco and Bob Dylan. Plus, I had never seen OCMS before which made it a bit more memorable.

Note: I forgot my camera. So, the photo above is not from this show but from one in April in Nebraksa. However, it looked pretty much the same. Photo courtesy of Enrico Fuente.


kingdomforavoice said...

Sounds like a good show, sorry i missed it. I need to put up a review of the Wilco show, i'm tempted to post "They played California Stars" and leave it at that.

Flatlander said...

I didn't know you were at the Wilco show. It would have been good to see you.

I need to get my Wilco review done too. Race ya.

Nico said...

I've seen OCMS twice now and they're one of my current favorites.

I saw them last fall, a few weeks after Big Iron World came out and the fiddle player (whose name escapes me) said something to the effect of "We have the #1 bluegrass album in America right now," (Crowd goes wild) "which is pretty interesting considering it's not a bluegrass record."

They get lumped in with the bluegrass crowd a lot and they certainly have songs that are bluegrassy, but I agree with their self-assessment. If you've ever been to a hardcore bluegrass show, OCMS it is not. As a matter of fact, a lot of bluegrass "purists" I know are quite turned off by OCMS' political and drug references.