Railroad Earth brings B+ game to Memphis

Railroad Earth
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, TN
October 12, 2011

Railroad Earth returned to Memphis on October 12, a mere few months after they played their first ever show here— quite remarkable, actually. This time through, they played a solid show, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite as good as the March performance.

The band started their first set fairly strong, with an upbeat “Cold Water” before slowing things down a tad with the instrumental “Old Dangerfield,” which was played well enough but didn’t really grab the crowd by the cajones. They followed it up with the laid-back “Just So You Know;” again, a well-played tune but not quite the exploratory vehicle that the audience came to see.

When the band got into “Storms,” though, they roped the audience back in, and you could tell that frontman Todd Sheaffer was a tad surprised when the entire room joined in on the chorus. “Colorado” followed and garnered some cheers, and the band followed it with a few slower tunes, “Mourning Flies” and “Right In Tune,” before finally speeding things up to close the first set with “Long Way To Go.”

As far as complete sets, the first left a bit to be desired; the band never really seemed to get off the ground, and every time they seemed to build momentum, they brought things back down to Earth with a slower tune.

The second set didn’t start off with any more energy; the instrumental “Through the Gates,” but finally, the band began to find their groove after that with “Walk Beside Me.” With the electrified “Black Elk Speaks,” the band seemed to find their footing. The song was assertive, even with Tim Carbone putting down his fiddle for an electric guitar. The vocal harmonies were spot on, and finally, the Railroad Earth that the hundreds-strong crowd came to see was showing itself.

As Carey Harmon’s familiar drum intro for “Seven Story Mountain” came through the PA, any last audience members that hadn’t been roped in surely turned attention to the stage. For the next ten-plus minutes, the band showed why there are few out there who can do what Railroad Earth does — blend bluegrass, rock, folk…nearly every genre of music into a new beast that moves your feet and warms your heart.

Andy Goessling, an amazing musician, played a tremendous dobro solo while Carbone colored his notes with his fiddle. Goessling never ceases to amaze; over the course of this one show, he played dobro, guitar, banjo, mandolin, saxophone, penny whistle…probably a few more. The only thing that guy didn’t break out was a cowbell.

Unfortunately the momentum just didn’t hold, and the band slowed things down with “Old Man & the Land,” a good song but one that was followed by the frenetic “Bread and Water.” It would have kept the energy of the room up to have followed “Seven Story Mountain” with “Bread and Water.” The band seemed to follow this course all evening – speed things up, slow things down, speed things up, slow things down…just didn’t seem to get any continuity.

Across the board, the musicianship was as it always is – stellar. But, for as far as Railroad Earth shows go, it was a tad disappointing. At the very least, most of the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, because a less-than-stellar Railroad Earth show is still better than 99% of the shows out there anyway. It’s just kind of a bummer when a band who’s capable of so much doesn’t bring their A+ game…this October Memphis show was more like a solid B+.

Click the thumbnails to see photos from the show by Josh Mintz…