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Railroad Earth at 9:30 Club

by Wesley Hodges on March 16, 2017

Photo by Sean O'Brien

Railroad Earth

9:30 Club
Washington, DC
March 10

Railroad Earth’s annual weekend stint at 9:30 Club was renewed on a blustery Friday night, and a casually late bunch slowly filled out the historic venue in the early goings of the two-night affair.
“Long Way To Go,” got the show into gear and set a tone for a show heavy on more classic and broadly appealing fare from the band’s deep catalog. The song encapsulated RRE’s now trademark brand of rhythmic country bluegrass for the chooglin’ man.

Those looking to shake off the cold with some rapid-fire bluegrass didn’t have to wait long—the hard-chuggin “Shockenaw Mountain Breakdown” provided fiddle maestro Tim Carbone the first opportunity to flex his virtuosic skills in dizzying fashion for the youthful, near-capacity crowd. To pair off a quick coupling suite, the burning finger-picking hoedown on “Cold Water” was the first taste chance for mandolin/bouzouki player John Skehan to flash his multi-instrumental prowess.

Set one offered up a healthy mix of contrasts: fast and slow, twangy and rockin, spirited and slow-cooked. The spirited crowd ate up the early offerings as the sextet loosened the reins and produced an expansive second half in set one that included a couple noteworthy labyrinthine suites like “Saddle of the Sun > Butterfly and the Tree” and set closing “Walk Beside Me > Hard Livin’” to close the frame.

One often overlooked attribute of Railroad Earth's style (due largely to their acoustic instrumentation and temperament) is the juiced up rock and funk sounds the sextet can produce when shifting gears out of the comfort zones of country, improvisational bluegrass and Americana. On that note, it was interesting to see that the band’s backdrop and overhead ball were both mirrored and 'disco-fied'. The accents and lighting went a long way to liven up the visual element of the performance around the mostly stoic, soft-spoken and intently concentrated band.

After crowd pleasers “Bird in a House” and “Happy Song” opened up the second set, drummer Carey Harmon began acting as steam engine, keeping the remainder of the affair lively, danceable and downright funky (bassist Andrew Altman led the groove-funk “Lone Croft Farewell” on a blissfully serpentine trail) to sustain the proper momentum as the night wore on.

Fixtures in the RRE songbook like “Mighty River,” “Elko” and “Dandelion Wine” carried the remainder of the show before closing down the encore with a nod to Jerry on an apropos cover of Grateful Dead’s “Mississippi Half-Step Toodleoo” to bid the audience farewell until Saturday’s return, while praying for better weather.

Authors: Wesley Hodges