Show Review: An Evening with Sturgill Simpson: Heavier than Heaven

Show Reviews

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After extensive touring on the back of a Grammy win for A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson went back into the woods. Turns out, he “spent the last year going out of [his] mind”. So on a Sunday night, in Brooklyn, he was characteristically tight lipped. Sound & Fury did most of the talking.

Simpson only spoke twice. To reiterate the point of evening: that the show was to benefit the Special Forces Foundation and how we should be grateful for the sacrifice. And then a passing comment on the intensity of the show. So sweaty it was like he “ran through a fucking sprinkler.”

At that point Simpson and his band had spent the better part of an hour playing further amped up versions of the whole of Sound & Fury. The only breaks were to stretch the bands fingers and to light one up. Otherwise, songs like “The Best Clockmaker on Mars” turned into ten-minute half-time beatdowns, like an IV drip of anvils. Simpson’s new material is meant to be heard live and loud.

Much has been made about the pivot from Simpson’s country sound. To which he appears to have modified his Hi-Watt amp to read “SO WATT”. But in this live setting—stripped of the studio production—the new songs bare the same bones as all of his best work. There’s E to A and E to B7; and even the same right hand rhythms found on High Top Mountain. Go back and listen to “You Can Have the Crown”, and you’ll hear it in “Last Man Standing” and “A Good Look” next time you catch him in your town.

Which is the point I think. Like it or not, Simpson’s albums have deliberately followed a certain trajectory, each bending country conventions to its own will. High Top Mountain was a past life, a dream. Metamodern an ethereal wandering. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth—birth and life. Sound & Fury then, is sin and hell—set up way back in 2016 by “A Call to Arms,” as the “bombs fall out of our fucking skies.”

So as the onslaught of Sound & Fury’s carnage infused Simpson’s back catalogue for second half of his set, I wondered where it’s all going to go. The guy has scorched all expectations. The most exciting thing will be to hear all of his material morph into the conclusion of the journey. Back when Sturgill would speak about his work, he mentioned that his fifth album would return to the light. For now though, I’m content to bask in the heat. Let “Fastest Horse in Town” stutter and lurch into “Brace for Impact”. Let “A Call to Arms” finish each set with a pool of sweat and blood. http://www.sturgillsimpson.com

100% of the net proceeds from this run of six-shows went to the Special Forces Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides immediate and ongoing support to Army Special Forces soldiers, “Green Berets,” and their families. Visit https://www.specialforcesfoundation.org for more information.

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