Railroad Earth, The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ – 7/24
Railroad Earth’s John Skehan back in 2008- photo by Chris Paul
If you’ve seen a band eleven times in a year, you begin to understand the interplay between band members (in addition to hearing a number of songs repeated). From February, to now, I’ve followed the beginning of bassist Andrew Altman’s career in Railroad Earth, from his first show, to his most recent. I can honestly say this was the first time that I’ve felt as though Andrew was beyond “being comfortable” which is a feat in and of itself when you’re still relatively new in a band.
Following a strong set from Assembly of Dust, Railroad Earth hit the stage about 9 PM. Pulling out songs like “The Good Life,” gave leeway to Altman to open up, and go beyond his comfort zone. Later in the set, the group pulled out a rare tune entitled “Mission Man.” A flawless timed beat from drummer Carey Harmon, allowed Andrew to fire away with his bass during this hometown crowd favorite. To end set one, “Hard Livin’” a song off the latest Railroad Earth release Amen Corner was played much like it is on the album, until the very end, where the jam opened up into a hardcore bluegrass breakdown before Andy Goessling began playing two saxophones at once.
After a 30 minute break, the second set began with a John Skehan original, “420.” This was followed by the bonus track on Amen Corner, “Standing On The Corner” that includes Todd Sheaffer’s banter on how messed up the world is these days, almost in a humorous view, as if he’s a drunk ranting about life in general observing things closely, similar to Bob Dylan’s style. The bluegrass strings, the heart of this band, then was exposed during “Ragtime Annie Lee,”which was topped off with magnificent guitar picking from multi instrumentalist Andy Goessling. Towards the end of set two, the mesmerizing percussion intro to “Head” began, followed by the slow stringed part of the intro, and then the banjo moved into a fast tempo that carried on throughout the rest of the fifteen minute song, with each band member seeming to challenge the others with his solo. The most intriguing situation came when John Skehan and Andrew Altman went at it, to the great enthusiasm of the crowd. A hazy and psychedelic “Mourning Flies” then closed out the set. The lyrics and the music complement each other on this one, as Todd Sheaffer shares his girlfriend’s nightmares regarding the passing of a family member wondering if it was connected with a possum outside dying, eventually dead, while scavenging birds encircled the creature and eventually carried it away.
As an encore, Railroad Earth dedicated “I Am A Mess” to sound engineer Mike Partridge, and his soon to be wife. This From Good Homes original built up in its funky structure until peaking into a euphoric roar of pure bliss. It was a very loud display of how Railroad Earth is not just a bluegrass band, but is so much more, reaching all areas of the music spectrum.