REVIEW: Sturgill Simpson – Live At Gorilla, Manchester

P1010469Until recently, I must confess that I never claimed to be a fan of Sturgill Simpson. Always an artist I never really checked out; music that I never properly delved into. However, the release and subsequent global success of Sturgill’s third album ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’ back in April clearly turned a few heads, and it certainly turned mine. The album itself is one of a kind, to the extent where you can’t really label it as a specific genre. The standard of the production and instrumentation is quite simply superb – why hadn’t I taken any notice of this guy years ago?

When a UK tour was announced, we decided to go and check him out. Having never seen Sturgill before, we were totally in the dark with what to expect. I don’t think any of us could have imagined how brilliant this was going to be.

It would be unfair not to give a mention to the support act, Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules, who were tremendous and kicked off a superb evening of music in style. They have supported Sturgill on his previous two UK tours and have also worked with the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show and The Proclaimers. Their style of guitar-shredding, retro Americana was warmly embraced by the crowd. This is evidently a well-established band who have played on the circuit for a long time; the quality of the musicianship on show was very impressive. Daniel Meade has recently released a new album titled ‘Let Me Off At The Bottom’, be sure to check it out.

Sturgill Simpson arrived on stage at 8:45 sharp, joined by a 7-piece band (yes, 7!) which was almost too much to fit on the rather small stage. The band included a pedal steel as well as a brass section, with saxophone, trumpet and trombone. We have become used to artists coming from the US with limited backing, so this was refreshing to witness, and it provided that signature Sturgill sound.

The first half of the set included songs from his first two albums, including the likes of ‘Life Of Sin’, ‘Long White Line’ and ‘Water In A Well’, exposing the more traditional country side to his repertoire and allowing the slide guitar in particular to take prominence. I was completely taken aback by the sheer synchronicity of the band, who were so tight that the tracks sounded identical to the studio versions. It was effortless; there weren’t any set lists on stage, they just knew exactly what to do. Clockwork.

Sturgill certainly isn’t one for interacting with the crowd. One song runs into another, which runs into another. But at the half way point, he asked “do y’all want to hear the new record?”, and that’s exactly what we heard. In exactly the right order, from start to finish. No messing around! This was the first time I’d ever seen an artist do that, and there was something quite unique about knowing exactly what was coming next.

The crowd went wild as soon as the piano introduction on ‘Welcome To Earth’ kicked in. From that moment onwards, the general sound was sonically different, an illustration of Sturgill’s immense evolution as an artist from the first two albums. An extended version of ‘Keep It Between The Lines’ was simply awesome, allowing the brass section to truly let loose, before ‘Sea Stories’ had everybody singing along on the chorus. A video of this performance is attached below.

‘Brace For Impact’ was the song I was waiting to hear. One of my favourite songs of the year and the song that introduced me to Sturgill. Once again, if you shut your eyes it was just like listening to the studio cut which is extremely difficult to replicate with so many elements to it. Simply sublime.

Sturgill clearly doesn’t do encores. ‘Call To Arms’ finished to rapturous applause, whilst he and the band walked off stage, not showing much emotion. For them, it was just another gig. For us, it was one of the most memorable, captivating shows we’ve seen in a very long time. If you haven’t been to see Sturgill, I strongly encourage you to go. It’s an experience.