Sailor or Savior? Sturgill Simpson Impresses at The Vogue

Photo by Ryan Johnson
Photo by Ryan Johnson

It was St. Ambrose in 374 AD that originally said ‘if you should be in Rome, live in the Roman manner; if you should be elsewhere, live as they do there’.

Some 1,674 years later ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ is simply summed up with ‘when in Rome’…

Thursday night marked the first of two consecutive nights that Jackson, Kentucky native John Sturgill Simpson graced the legendary Vogue Theatre.

Simpson, having clearly taken St Ambrose to heart walked on stage sporting a blue denim shirt in conjunction with blue denim jeans; better known as the Canadian Tuxedo.

Simpson, or ‘Stuuuuurgill’ as the bellowing gentleman in the balcony (house left) drunkenly yet affectionately continued to refer to him as throughout the evening, played a very complete and well rounded two hour set.

The humble Simpson has been afforded some luxuries since his last stop-off at The Vogue Theatre back on December 7th 2014, the most notable being the now six-piece band that accompanies the rising star.

Standing centre stage in the middle of a musical semicircle, the 5’9 Simpson was complemented by an elaborate often Garth Hudson (The Band) sounding keys section to his right, a mild mannered electric guitar player just behind him, who was flanked by a trombone player, a saxophonist, and a trumpet and bass guitar player respectively.

Amidst the sea of cheers and adulation directed at Simpson, the Grammy nominee launched into his first song of the night, crowd favourite “Long White Line”; from the Metamodern Sounds in Country Music LP. Very quickly showing the control in his voice and the contrast with which he can emote, “Long White Line” took a detour and unapologetically delved into a few minutes of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 closing track from their album IV, “When the Levee Breaks”.

With the aforementioned horn section backing up the outlaw country artist, it allowed the layers and texture required for Simpson to achieve a proper representation of his latest album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth to flourish.

As on most of the dates on The Sailor’s Tour, Simpson front-loaded much of the set with tracks from his first two albums High Top Mountain and Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, respectively.

At about the hour mark, or roughly half way through his often two hour long set, Simpson switches gears and focuses on the sentimental and emotional third album released on April 15th, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

With 37 down and 35 more dates to go, Simpson is just past the halfway mark on the staggering 72-date world-tour he has embarked on. Simpson’s tour saw him depart from Austin Texas on May 5th and won’t see him back home to his wife and boy in Nashville until he has completed the second of his two Fox Theatre shows in Oakland on November 20th.

Opting to play two shows in many of the cities he and his cohorts travel to on this tour, Vancouver is set to prove no different.

The infamous Vogue Theatre plays host to Sturgill Simpson again tonight, adding yet another to the long list of legends some 75 years strong that have performed on the city’s most decorated stage.

No stranger to any genre The Vogue Theatre’s rich history in country music continues on Saturday night with whom many call the greatest songwriter in country music history, Steve Earle alongside Shawn Colvin. Having had country music’s best like Willie Nelson, Terri Clark, Bonnie Raitt and Keith Urban all step booted foot on The Vogue stage, and with the anticipation of so many more artists to come this year, The Vogue Theatre is as happening as it was back in April of 1941 when they invited Dal Richards on stage to be their first ever musical act.

While at 38 years of age and widely considered a savior of sorts for country music purists enraged with the current tidal wave of pop-country nonsense, Simpson, along with Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon), Hank III, Scott H. Biram and a handful more have be looked at to assume the mantle and take country music back to its outlaw roots. With performances reminiscent of the late Merle Haggard such as the one witnessed last night by Sturgill Simpson to draw from, it gives me reassurance that real country is still alive; and with any luck just building the strength to come back and reassume the saddle over whatever you call that twang-pop the rest of Nashville is currently shoving down our gullets.