Those dedicated few who came out for Saturday's Railroad Earth show at House of Blues were treated to an absolutely stunning evening of live music. Those who opted for other activities missed out big time.
At the nexus of various American touring scenes — bluegrass, jam, jazz, blues, etc. — Railroad Earth commands an impassioned fan base, one that relishes the compositional integrity of this music and the mind-blowing talents behind the musicians' improvisational chops. This isn't one of those bands that trades leads atop a steady rhythm; rather, each of the six musicians tends to be charting his own course while listening to everyone else. The end result is an open-air jam session.
Part of what's so amazing about Railroad Earth is their ability to weave dense layers of music over and alongside one another. This is clear on their studio albums, but — oh, my — onstage this sonic quilt simply shines. They did so with aplomb this weekend in Cleveland. The crowd was exuberant as hell.
As far as the setlist goes (see below), we happened upon a great selection here in Cleveland. The first few tunes — The Forecast, Like a Buddha, Give That Boy a Hand — flowed supremely well. (Buddha's audience interaction is a great early-show attraction.)
Holding down the two poles of the stage on each night are fiddler extraordinaire Tim Carbone and mandolin master John Skehan. They often went back and forth with melodic ideas — Carbone, eyes closed and swaying frantically as if possessed, and Skehan, stoic and measured in his concentration. They were fascinating to watch.
Also worth noting here was Andy Goessling's performance. The multi-instrumentalist was incredible all night, moving from guitar to mandolin to flute to saxophone — including a few moments where he was playing to two saxes at the same time. He and the others, of course, approached all portions of the show with casual confidence. This is a band at the top of their game, with nothing but blue skies ahead.
Opener Gipsy Moon also brought an excellent set to the HOB that night. With a blend of old-time strings music — and the "gypsy" moniker well earned — they were a fantastic fit with Railroad Earth's danceable jamgrass later on.
Like a Buddha
Give That Boy a Hand
Came Up Smilin'
New Lee Highway Blues
Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
Walls of Time
Peace on Earth