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Concert Reviews:
Strugill Simpson scorches at second Masonic Temple concert
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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DETROIT -- Taking a brief break at the start of his show Sunday night, March 1, at the Masonic Temple Theatre, Sturgill Simpson promised "periodic moments of uncertainty...bear with us."



Those, however, were more for the Nashville-based rock-country hyphenate's fans than for Simpson and his bulletproof band.



As it was the second of two shows for Simpson and company at the Masonic, with about a half-house turning out after the previous night sold out, Simpson opted to "switch some things up" and significantly alter the makeup and pacing of the nearly two-hour and 10-mninute concert. Though still a blazing display of guitar heroics and ensemble pyrotechnics, as is his wont, Simpson made a substantial change by playing the entirety of his latest album "Sound & Fury" -- recorded mostly at the McGuire Motor Inn in Waterford -- during the middle of the setlist rather than starting the show with it as he has at other shows.



Playing a full new album at any point is a challenge, of course, and Sunday's crowd proved indeed uncertain about how it felt about the placement. Fans, particularly those in the reserved seats rather than the GA floor, left in droves throughout the "Sound & Fury" recitation as the show stretched late (nearly 11:30) on a school night. Simpson, of course, has all the latitude to not repeat himself, and should be commended for that, but the fact remains that an audience is more likely to be up for a blast of the un-, or less-, familiar at the start of the night than in mid-show, after they've already been served a dose of favorites.



The exodus didn't have any discernible impact on Simpson, in his red embroidered suit and his band, which features Detroiters Chuck Bartells on bass and Bobby Emmett on keyboards. Following a strong but perhaps over-generous (75+ minutes) opening set by country singer Tyler Childers, the Simpson quartet came out scorching (and perhaps sending a message? ) with "Brace For Impact (Live a Little)," with Simpson lacing into the first of many searing guitar solos. He dipped through is first three albums and demonstrated impressive range, from a soulful version of "It Ain't All Flowers" to a ferociously funky "Some Days" and the country weeper "Long White Line." He preceded "Sound & Fury" with William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water" -- "One more for the ladies," Simpson said -- and the next 10 songs proved the new album's ambitious sonic mettle, with Emmett's vintage synthesizer locking horns with Simpson's guitar and despite the keyboardist's false start into "Best Clockmaker on Mars" when it was time to play "Make Art Not Friends."



Some mellower moments -- a cover of Willie Nelson's "I'd Have to Be Crazy," "Oh Sarah" and "Breakers Roar" -- provided a bit of breath after all the "Sound & Fury" and also gave Simpson a chance to say very nice things about his Detroit band members. The respite was also a set-up for an epic "Call to Arms," which included bits of T. Rex's "The Motivator" and Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun" in a lengthy jam that probably would have kept Simpson and company on stage even longer if they'd been given their druthers, regardless of whether anybody was still there to hear it.

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