Words by J.D. Swerzenski • Photos by Todd Cooper
Sturgill Simpson is not the loquacious type. The most talking he offered the audience during his Nov. 15 set at the McDonald Theater was a few post-song "thanks" and a requisite band introduction. But then Simpson takes his cues from classic country’s greats, types like Waylon Jennings and George Jones who honed the formula for creating a killer show: recruit a top-shelf band, sing your guts out and let the music do the talking for you. Simpson followed that formula to a tee on Sunday.
The Kentucky-born singer has been riding high since the release of last year’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, a record uniquely designed to appeal at once to the camo hat and Birkenstock sets. Both sides of that fan base came out in force in Eugene, bearing witness as Sturgill and his five-piece backing band tore through a nearly two-hour set.
With material culled primarily from his most recent two albums, Sturgill hit appropriate high-notes with the Metamodern single “Turtles All the Way Down,” which had the crowd in an unlikely sing-along of “marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and DMT.” Better yet was When in Rome cover “The Promise,” whose climax hit even harder when he sent that glorious baritone ringing out over the rafters of the McDonald.
In true showman fashion, Simpson saved the best for last. This tour has seen Simpson bring forth all sorts of unexpected covers, including Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Otis Redding’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Still, little could prepare the already revved-up crowd for his freight train of a closer, a medley of “Listening to the Rain” and “The Motivator.” The latter, a bluegrass-infused double-time take on the T. Rex classic, let his band cut loose for an Allman Brothers-worthy jam.
Eight-minutes later, after the audience had screamed out the last of their lungs, Sturgill brought it all home with a final howl of “sitting here wondering, listening to the rain!” The encore chants roared on long after the band had exited stage right, but they went ignored. Sturgill had said all he needed.