Live review: Railroad Earth @ the Ogden Theatre, Day 1By Nick Chambers | December 30th, 2010 | 1 Comment »
“They’re stuck in New Jersey,” muttered bystanders along Colfax Ave on Wednesday evening. According to a few, the New Jersey natives Railroad Earth were still snowed only a few hours before the first performance of their three-night New Year’s showcase.
Nederland folksters Elephant Revival serenaded the capacity crowd and diffused any doubts that the Railroad members were missing. Elephant Revival, which creates a sound self-described as “transcendental folk,” treated the crowd to a set that highlighted newer material from their recent release, “Break in the Clouds.”
Not long after 10 pm, Railroad Earth frontman Todd Sheaffer led his group of smiley string musicians out on stage. Appearing to be the happiest band on the planet, the sextet launched into the crowd pleasing ‘Happy Song.” The front row at the Ogden blew up into a skipping hoedown for the whimsical bluegrass opener.
While most of their songs feature bluegrass arrangements and instrumentation, much of the band’s repertoire consists of songs that are classic rock or folk tunes. In the case of Railroad Earth’s cover of Tom Waits’ “Cold Water,” the band set a dirty blues rock number to bluegrass time, performing what had to have been the most jubilant rendition of the Waits song ever played before.
As the band moved through its first set that included a beautifully melodic version of “The Forecast,” Railroad’s rookie bass player, Andrew Altman, looked right at home with his new bandmates. Each member helped bring this piece improvisation to a dissonant crescendo as fiddle player Tim Carbone swapped out lead lines on electric guitar and fiddle.
The band’s second set didn’t commence until after midnight, and brought the adoring crowd versions of “The Hunting Song” and “Smiling like a Buddha.” The vast talents of multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling were on display throughout the night, but Goessling’s pennywhistle work on the long introductory improvisation of “Smiling” proved that he was the man to watch during the show.
The members of the Kalamazoo-based bluegrass outfit, Greensky Bluegrass were in town for their two-night stand at Cervantes, and jumped on stage for some picking with the headliners. Greensky’s dobro player Anders Beck joined Railroad for the drunken sing-a-long “Donkey For Sale,” as Todd Sheaffer howled, “Six shots for everyone, and a tax rebate!” Elephant Revival’s Bonnie Paine scraped away on her washboard and reminded the Ogden’s crowd that it might just be the sexiest instrument out there.
The set closed with Greensky’s Paul Hoffman singing lead on Walter Vinson’s “Sitting in Top of the World,” and a joyous bluegrass mosh pit ensued. Railroad Earth then returned to the stage to sing their ode to the Centennial State, “Colorado.”
Both the members of Railroad Earth and their fans were more than happy to be together. By the time the night ended just before 2 am, there were hilarious realizations as the dazed crowd poured out onto Colfax remembering that there are still two more nights of fun to be had.
Nick Chambers is a Denver-based writer and a new contributor to Reverb.