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Review: Sturgill Simpson is a metamodern man for metamodern times

Someone once described Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as “country music on acid,” but the description is more suitable to describe Sturgill Simpson.

Simpson courted the McDonald Theatre with his “Living the Dream” tour on the night of Sunday, Nov. 15. His brand is tantamount to the likes of Country Joe & The Fish, and although he’s not singing anti-war anthems, he’s probably doing a comparable amount of drugs.

Simpson brings an equal amount of energy and emotion to his arrangements. Simpson is worth the time because among his ensemble are a Hammond organ and a full piano that supports a cream-white theremin, which resembles a stereo from The Jetsons.

His most prominent track from last year’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is “Turtles All The Way Down” – which borrows its title from the idiom with sketchy origins; Sturgill ambiguously employs to refer to the universe’s infinite regression (or the introspective vortex of an LSD trip.)

Sturgill’s earnest, dulcet voice croons over “Turtles” about “reptile aliens made of light” that “cut you open and pull out all your pain.” The chorus lists, “Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, and DMT / They all changed the way I see.” But Sturgill’s reflective country style is worth more than someone who knows how to make chemical acronyms rhyme.

“It Ain’t All Light” was an equally trippy cut from this set, with his guitarist using a slide on his pinky finger, trading solos for atmospheric slide rhythms through a Pink Floyd-esque landscape. Sturgill stood at the side of the stage and assisted his band as it built the sound while the guitar and keyboard players exchanged solos.

The crowds during a country show can make the experience a real trip, and an interminable collage of sounds. Sturgill’s 90-minute set glided by, pivoting from song to song like “Long White Line,” “The Promise,” and “Life of Sin,” with ne’er a break longer than a moment between. But once Simpson began, the crowd never stopped dancing.

This is the best juncture at which to state this fact: at least three university journalism professors showed their faces at the Sturgill show.

Comedian and Tennessee native Billy Wayne Davis opened the show with a set, in which he stated that The Middle East and Texas “are the same f–kin’ place” and then, judging by the reaction to that joke, remarked, “There are a lot of rednecks here tonight.” A substantial portion of the audience loudly, proudly, owned that decree.

Davis said he usually performs in front of a curtain, rather than the swirled flower light pattern that decorated the wall behind him at the McDonald, which he said reminded him of “one of Sturgill’s DMT trips.”

The brief moments of silence between lyrics were filled in with hoops and hollers. The set ended with an epicly long jam of T. Rex’s “The Motivator,” and the band left the stage.

And even as the McDonald speakers began to play Brenda Lee’s “Danke Schoen” to usher everyone out and signal that the show was over, a persistent, roaring chant fell over the audience: “WE! WANT! STURGILL!” clapclap clapclapclap.

Sturgill attracts an intensely devoted fan base. And rightfully so.

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Emerson Malone

Emerson Malone