Old Crow Medicine Show at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Wednesday 4 October 2006
Bands with raw, unfettered energy typically fare well at a sold-out 9:30 club show. With its reckless, boot-stomping enthusiasm, Old Crow Medicine Show clearly had the crowd's support during its two-hour concert on Wednesday night, with deafening applause after each song and loud rhythmic clapping along to the group's bluegrass-folk music.
Unfortunately, that rowdy response -- along with the distracting, unrelenting din of crowd chatter -- also worked to the band's detriment. On record, the quintet relies on the subtle interplay among instruments, but live, the demand for volume obliterated any such nuances. Even slower numbers such as "Down Home Girl" were performed at a constant yell, which obliterated the tranquil pace of its studio version.
Periodically, glimmers of the group's true talent appeared through the ruckus: The melodious "James River Blues" featured a rich three-part harmony, while a cover of Memphis Slim's bluesy "Mother Earth" was enchantingly mellow. More often, though, Old Crow performed at lightning speed: Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid" featured rapid-fire lyrics and swooping fiddle, while "Wagon Wheel" inspired a roaring audience singalong. Those dizzying numbers may have provoked the loudest crowd reactions, but the gimmicky, untextured performance was a disappointment from a band with such obvious skill and potential.
-- Catherine P. Lewis