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Concert Reviews:
Sturgill Simpson rides a winning "victory lap" at The Fox

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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DETROIT -- Sturgill Simpson told the crowd at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday night, Sept. 19, that he wasn’t planning to tour this year. But after a year that saw him win a Grammy Award (for Best Country Album) and appear on “Saturday Night Live,” the Americana singer, songwriter and guitar hero figured he was due “a victory lap.”

But the real winners were those who saw Simpson’s lusty, take-no-prisoners exhibition.

Dismissing, for now, the horn section that had previously accompanied him, Simpson stripped down to a basic four-piece band for his current tour, including Detroiters Chuck Bartels on bass and Bobby Emmett on keyboards. The format allowed Simpson and company plenty of room to stretch out during the 100-minute show, fusing lengthy intros and closing vamps on many of the 13 full-band songs, filling the jams with numerous solos from Simpson -- who tended to his own modest flock of guitars himself, rather than a road crew member -- with Emmett sharing the spotlight on a few of the tunes.

The quartet particularly caught fire during fierce, extended renditions of “Keep It Between The Lines,” an epic “Brace For Impact (Live A Little)” and the show-closing “Call To Arms,” whose clearly extemporaneous middle section threatened to wander into Spinal Tap “Jazz Odyssey” territory before the group brought it back to its beefy arrangement. Simpson also nodded to his assorted roots with a tasteful selection of covers, including Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy,” Freddie King’s blues-rock classic “Going Down,” R&B stalwart William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and, during the five-song solo acoustic set, the Stanley Brothers’ “Could You Love Me (One More Time).”

That solo portion also allowed Simpson to stretch out his voice, which was occasionally buried amidst the full-band fury. Emotive renditions of “Oh Sarah,” the audience singalong “Long White Line,” “Life Of Sin” and “Living The Dream” provided a welcome respite as well as a different look at Simpson’s artistry, although the bulk of the rowdy and vociferous Fox crowd remained standing even through those intimate moments.

During his few remarks, Simpson acknowledged a bit of indulgence, explaining that “this tour is really for us,” meaning he and the band. But it was a moment when both artist and audience desires synced, to the satisfaction of all concerned.

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