Old Crow Medicine Show, Shovels & Rope
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
North Carolina has been good to Old Crow Medicine Show. The Nashville-based string band—and newest members of the Grand Ole Opry—got its big break when Doc Watson's granddaughter discovered them busking outside the Boone Drug Company, one of the late Watson’s favorite Watauga County spots as well as his own former busking corner. Co-written by Bob Dylan and famously covered by Darius Rucker, the group’s signature song, “Wagon Wheel,” highlights the state—and Raleigh specifically—in its lyrics. Those lines have been embraced such that they now emblazon t-shirts
, throw pillows
and other assorted Etsy creations
Wednesday night in Raleigh, Old Crow singer and songwriter Ketch Secor admitted that he’d never even been to the state capital at the time he finished penning “Wagon Wheel,” but he spent much of the rest of the evening proving his Carolina credentials ad nauseam. Secor rejoiced that he and his bandmates weren’t “stuck out there somewhere between Cary and Chapel Hill,” and claimed “there are some things you can strut in Raleigh that you just can’t do in Durham.” He even reached beyond the Triangle to pick on Charlotte and Asheville, joking that the crowd smelled better here than in the mountains because we had showered this morning.
Though they mentioned the area—and icons ranging from NC State’s Wolfpack to John Dee Holeman—between just about every song, they also inserted gratuitous references within the lyrics themselves, milking “Caroline” for an extra Raleigh mention and doubling the number of Carolina references in their medley of “I Hear Them All” and “This Land Is Your Land.” It was simultaneously funny and frustrating, impressive and insecure, as Secor and company seemed to seek the crowd’s approval based on their knowledge of the state’s geography—they must have mentioned just about every river basin within a few hundred miles—rather than on their musical merits.
Speaking of which, the band’s accessible blend of old-time, neo-folk, and bluegrass with a rowdy rock ‘n’ roll edge hasn’t weakened. “Sweet Amarillo,” the group’s latest co-write with Dylan, and the Watson tribute, “Doc’s Day,” were both standouts of Wednesday’s set. They rivaled OCMS staples like “Tear It Down” and “Take ‘Em Away” for crowd response. The set stretched beyond 30 songs, a testament to the strength and balance of the group’s catalog.
The seven-piece switched up stringed instruments and even mixed in keyboards, drums and clogging on occasion. When they weren’t duck-walking across the stage, the well-oiled machine was impressive simply gathered front and center for stripped-down, harmony-rich versions of Willie Dixon’s “Somebody Tell That Woman” and gospel-esque Remedy closer “The Warden.”
If the new songs Shovels & Rope previewed during its opening set are any indication, the garage-country duo will likely continue its meteoric rise with Swimmin’ Time
’s impending release. Soulful harmonies shined through the twangy jangle “Save The World” and the stomping album opener “The Devil Is All Around,” while the “Fish Assassin” demonstrated their ragged, punk spirit for 90 handclap-and-tambourine-driven seconds. It’s a little strange to see the pair on such a big stage when they seemed so at home at a small dive like Slim’s—where their voices and simple drum kit broke through the chatter easily—but “Gasoline” and “Boxcar,” from the couple’s self-titled debut as a duo, were as charming and simple as ever.
The duo joined OCMS for most of the encore, which the headliners kicked off with Al Jolson’s “Carolina in the Morning” (there it is again). Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst took over lead vocals for Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You),” while Hearst and husband Michael Trent led a slowed-down cover of “What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?”
Closing it out together with Tom Petty’s “American Girl” should have taught Old Crow a lesson, though: No one singing along in the crowd really minded that the cars “roll[-ed] by out on 441,” instead of wedging in a reference to 440 or 401.