By Jonathan Gang
New Jersey’s favorite rootsy jam band, Railroad Earth, kicked off a three-night stand at the Odgen Theatre with energy on Friday night. With a smattering of guest players, Railroad Earth confidently ran through a selection of fan favorites and newer tunes.
Photos and a review of Railroad Earth at the Ogden Theatre on Friday.
The setlist focused more on tighter, less improvisation-heavy songs than the average show by these Jamgrass lifers. While this approach could have been a sore spot for many similar groups, Railroad boasts an above-average songwriter in the form of singer/guitarist Todd Scheaffer. Tunes such as “Potter’s Field,” “Head” and “the Old Man and the Land” worked as compact sing-alongs instead of launching pads for extended improvisational excursions. Railroad can shorten these tunes thanks to Schaeffer’s deft hand with a melody and knack for catchy, harmony laden choruses.
However, when the band did stretch out, Railroad demonstrated an almost unmatched ability to seamlessly transition from driving two-step reels and pastoral ballads to spacey, jazzy jams and back again. The show’s improvisational centerpiece came in an unbroken four-song run at the end of the second set. This section included jumpy bluegrass numbers “The Forecast,” “Mighty River,” “the Jupiter and the 119,” and ended in an extended workout of the fiddle-tune mashup “Cuckoo’s Medley.” By the end of this nearly 25-minute stretch, the band had touched on nearly all of its many strengths, from breakneck bluegrass to Band-esque country funk and from fleet fingered shredding to laid back and texturally rich atmospherics.
Railroad was joined for “Cuckoo’s” by fellow jamgrass titan Bill Nershi of the String Cheese Incident and Emmit-Nershi Band. Nershi, who had previously appeared intermittently throughout the evening, contributed slide guitar and took lead vocals on the new song “Cat.” Flugelhornist Dan Seers also joined Railroad for the funky “Goat,” and both guests sat in for the second set closer “I’m a Mess”
The evening was a strong start to a multi-night run with a set list that delivered enough favorites and jams to whet fans appetites while still leaving a great deal of opportunity for the band to step it up during the rest of the weekend.
Old Man and the Land
Bread and Water
Too Much Information
The Forecast >
Mighty River >
The Jupiter and the 119>
I am a Mess***
Bringin’ My Baby Back Home*
*With Bill Nershi
**With Dan Seers
***With Bill Nershi and Dan Sears
Jonathan Gang is a new contributor to Reverb.
Todd Radunsky is a Boulder-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.