Old Crow Medicine Show, The Showbox, Seattle, WA – 9/12
I'll admit, I was baffled and a little frustrated when I learned Old Crow Medicine Show was playing The Showbox bad acoustics, limited parking, impersonal atmosphere and well, I figured the group would be playing to a half-empty room, especially on a Tuesday night. I need to personally apologize to OCMS. I had no idea its fanbase was so large, encompassing (at least in Seattle) everyone from frat boys to gutter punks. The venue was packed. One hour after the doors opened there was still a line of people on the sidewalk outside waiting for admittance. Wow.
I find it curious that OCMS has amassed such a varied audience when other groups loosely fitting into this "bluegrass" genre (think Hackensaw Boys, Cornmeal even Yonder Mountain String Band) play to a fairly categorizable crowd (not that such categories are a good thing). Then again there are certain factors enough ruckus to instigate moshing, members pretty enough to appear on MTV pertaining to OCMS that perhaps appeal to a larger demographic. Maybe Seattleites are just well-listened. But enough social commentary.
It seems OCMS is seriously smitten with the Pacific Northwest, particularly Seattle, or at least it's obsessed with talking about it.
Repetitious references to the area were so frequent that by the end of the night you weren't sure how to interpret its adoration anymore.
Were these Tennessee boys being pretentious? Making fun of the stiff crowd who couldn't move because of the expensive drinks being carefully balanced? Flaunting their knowledge of the region (we're talking name-dropping that included Puget Sound, King County, Tacoma and Bellingham)? Or was the quintet genuinely overexcited to be in this town where individuals from every background erupted into shouts of approval at the close of each song?
Regardless of whether the group truly likes Seattle or simply showers each of its crowds with excessive love, it delivered. Two things can quickly be said about OCMS: 1) solid, searing vocals and 2) Ketch Secor's fiddle. Plenty of bands boast shared vocalists but OCMS'
inflections and harmonizations unite in a way that slices you open leaving you exposed to the icy wind. Guitarist Willie Watson throws himself out there like it's the last show he'll ever play, holding notes 'til he's lacking oxygen, blue veins popping out along his neck.
As for Secor's fiddle, well, there lies another kind of desperation that's earnest and unrestrained. Secor never held back, screaming and ripping on his instrument, the excess length on his bow hairs whipping bassist Morgan Jahnig in the face who took it like a trooper while he steadily slapped.
The group started subtle with "Poor Man" but quickly escalated the level of raucousness with "Tear It Down" and even delivered a little bit of bluegrass gospel with "God's Got It." Shortly into the second set area fishermen were linked to the playful "Cocaine Habit" which includes the chorus "take a whiff of me" and I swear on this occasion, the mention of Elijah Wood. Secor showed off his harmonica skills on "Minglewood Blues," at one point pulling off a solo with two harmonicas at once.
OCMS kept it moving with the twangy, near spoken-word "Let It Alone"
(the only time Kevin Hayes took over mic duties) followed by the darker Celtic-influenced "Hard To Tell" and then "Fall On My Knees,"
which would qualify for hoedown pardner music. Secor soon after dedicated a song to "all those Mercer Island girls" (a yuppie suburb located in the middle of Lake Washington) which turned out to be a cover of Waylon Jennings' and Willie Nelson's "I Can Get Off On You."
But "Wagon Wheel" was clearly the crowd favorite, sending couples dancing all across the floor.
Band introductions came at the end of the night, and continuing with the Seattle-soaked theme, went as follows: Jack London on the six-string guitjo, Ichiro Suzuki on guitar, Al Chambers on bass, Dr.
Frasier Crane on banjo and Ken Griffey on harmonica and fiddle. Jack London was from California but since OCMS put on such a tight, solid show … we'll let it slide.