Railroad Earth, The Wolf Den, Uncasville, CT & Best Buy Theater, NYC – 3/8-9
Photo by Ethan Ausschnitt
I hadn’t seen Railroad Earth since their New Years run, and I had long been anticipating another show since I woke up on January 1st. Here’s a review from a late February performance, followed by two from last week.
Washington D.C., 9:30 Club, 2/23
I went by myself, which was a first, but from the beginning I was never alone. The venue has a capacity of 1200, and you had to quite literally fight for your space. I made friends with a couple who had caught the Boston show the night before, and flew in that morning to make D.C. too; today’s hobos tend to forgo the train.
“Flower Between the Stones” is apparently an older song, though I had never heard it until I saw the Denver set lists from late January and headed straight to Archive.org. If it’s a revival it feels like new, with Tim Carbone singing and putting aside the fiddle to channel some rock star momentum on electric guitar. I hadn’t heard “Chains,” which followed, in years, and it felt especially appropriate at the 9:30, where I saw my first concert at age fourteen (“Events of long ago, now/somehow form a chain”.) I had lied to my parents and stolen away on the metro, back when the V Street venue used to be significantly more dangerous.
My favorite song combination of late, “Morning Flies”>”Lonecroft Farewell,” closed the set. The entire show was fantastic, with the band bringing lots of goofy energy, and making faces at each other and the audience (I really appreciated Todd Sheaffer’s change in lyrics: “woke up in a fog/on a blow up bed”.) They were stoked to be there, making it a family affair with a “Happy Song” closer, and an “Arcadian Driftwood” encore dedicated to Tim’s brother, who was in the audience and like most people there, loves The Band.
I went alone but after the show ended I saw familiar faces, and ended up driving a friend of a friend home to Virginia. We bonded over a New Year’s run at the Ogden in 2010, and I went to bed with “Daddy-O” stuck in my head.
Mohegan Sun Casino, The Wolf Den, Uncasville, CT, 3/8
Fear and loathing in Uncasville, Connecticut—at the least that’s how I went into this show. This was my second casino experience, the first coincidentally being Railroad inspired and occurring somewhere east of Elko, Nevada. Railroad would have to play “Elko,” and right before their one set show began, I realized that we had forgotten a deck of cards to throw. The Wolf Den is a 350-person venue, but if gambling trumps intimacy for you, then you can hear just fine from many of the surrounding slots. The band was playing in a fake cave, made even more epic by the mechanical wolves perched on rocks above, growling, tails wagging, and making everyone who noticed uneasy with their eerie eye contact.
There were some highlights, like a “Lovin’ You” that felt sincere in such a small venue. Since most people there could relate to the “working on being forgiven/ for all that hard living“ mentality, playing “Hard Livin’” felt appropriate (though I suppose it usually does.) The show itself was pretty underwhelming, despite the set list including some of my favorite songs and an “RV” for an encore. Nonetheless it was memorable, thanks in large part to the décor, which was Indian chic—I heard multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling described it as “Native American monetary exchange.” The general intimacy with the band was a plus, as is the care free, anything goes attitude that’s a casino must. We could gamble, booze and smoke openly, melt into the general psychedelia, and when it was all over, grab a Bobby Flay burger.
Best Buy Theater, New York City, NY 3/9
New York City and a handful of friends in tow, some that came as far away as Portland, OR and Denver, CO. Donna the Buffalo opened and were good, though I kept coming back to their name and the fact that it would have made for a good “Way of the Buffalo,” if Railroad hadn’t played it in D.C. That being said, there were a fair amount of repeats from that D.C. show, but the setlist never felt redundant. This is where the jamband aspect of Railroad Earth is key: a place where string instruments can jam on a framework and make the same song different on a nightly basis.
“Black Elk Speaks” opened and set the tone for that wild, kill your own meat, dangerous American nostalgia that I love about Railroad (“white heat..on our backs & burning like a sun/we walked..walked ‘til there was nowhere left to go”.) When “Spring-Heeled Jack” is the second song it’s going to be a great show. They played the song in D.C. as well, but it was well into second set and thus more intense. This time I was able to appreciate the instrumental and the immediate sense of energy and ante Railroad was bringing to my now hometown, music capitol, America. “Day on the Sand”—written by Todd Schaeffer to help his lady cope with a loss—has been my favorite track on their most recent album, at least this week. “Where Songs Begin” closed the first set, but it was an opening, an invitation for great things to come.
Another “Flower Between the Stones” came second set, but I was desperate for it, though I didn’t realize until Tim was already singing. I’ve been listening to it nonstop since D.C. because it reminds me of The Band and it’s rare we get Tim on lead vocals. “Birds of America” was the pinnacle of a great show. Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear of Donna the Buffalo found their way on stage for “Just So You Know,” but it was Sheryl Renee and Charlie Kay, who added some soul and gospel weight to Mighty River (and later the encore,) that were the most satisfying and unusual guests.
“Bird in a House” was the first song of the encore, followed by “Peace on Earth.” The former is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, the latter the only song I’ve had friends actually say they hate. Those friends are crazy, and though it’s not my favorite encore (I’m a sucker for the sappy ones), I always end up enjoying it.
Railroad Earth is set to play three shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco come the end of March, which will be the nights not to miss. Last year Phil Lesh joined them on stage, and again, when there’s a new CD in the works, every show is filled with the joyous anticipation of great things to come.