Railroad Earth, The Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY- 9/28
Photo by Stuart Levine
For Railroad Earth, playing the Capitol Theater was a milestone full of possibilities. Do they pay homage to Jerry Garcia, whose ghost lingers in the walls, to their New Jersey roots, or to their new album, steadily in the works? No matter what, one thing was certain: Railroad is an American band, and their shows always embody a collective tradition of folk, unreserved jamming, and rock and roll.
The opener “Potter’s Field” is typical of vocalist/guitarist Todd Sheaffer’s pension for storytelling in the tradition of The Band. Sheaffer, a Columbia graduate with a degree in English Literature, creates and curates Railroad’s extensive songbook, most of which stands alone as poetry. One of the few songs not penned by Sheaffer is “Crossing the Gap,” an ode to violinist/vocalist Tim Carbone’s Shawnee-on-Delaware home. Getting “The Good Life” and “Everything Comes Together” first set meant it was a show for hobos, Railroad’s diehard fans.
Second set’s “1759” is an instrumental that showcases perfect chemistry and the band’s ability to get folks dancing. Multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling plays everything from dobro to banjo, but it was his double saxophones during “Hard Livin’” that made the strongest impression. Mandolin virtuoso John Skeehan writes most of the band’s instrumentals, and the audience was treated to the newer, “Untitled #12.” It will most likely be renamed, but for now it remains the latest in a string of long, winding and unusual instrumentals.
The second set was replete with covers, and it’s a testament to Railroad that it’s tricky to identify them amid the originals. An example is “Won’t You Come and Sing for Me,” penned by bluegrass artist Hazel Dicken’s, but reinvented to suit Railroad’s affinity for the heartfelt and melodic. Legends Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe’s “The Walls of Time” channeled the heritage of the venue, but it was Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” that stole the show. It moved everyone a little bit closer, just to hear what Sheaffer had to say. The encore was “Mighty River,” a song that gradually builds until it breaks, and you’re left cleansed, the parallel effect of a good Railroad show.