Since the release of the great Amen Corner in June, Railroad Earth has been touring consistently, and the fall schedule proves no less ambitious. Though their 9/6 show at Irving Plaza—despite the lame marquee and barely renovated interior, I’ll never call it “The Fillmore”—didn’t jump out of the gate, the strong second set was a potent reminder of the band’s wholly satisfying live sound.
“Happy Song” and “420” kicked things off, but it seemed to take a few tunes for the band members to get in sync. They really hit their stride with “Goat,” a genial fan favorite and welcome addition to any show. “You Never Know” featured the first contributions from back-up vocalists Sheryl Renee, Shelly Lindsey and Carol Henton, whose gospel sound enhanced much of the second set as well. They also guested on the sweet ballad “Right in Tune,” but the highlight of the first set was “Crossing the Gap,” one of the best tracks on Amen Corner. With Tim Carbone’s down-home vocal delivery, it strikes a nice balance between straight-up bluegrass and old-school country.
The whirlwind second set began with “Long Way to Go,” always a perfect choice as an opener. Following a short, energetic jam, Carbone announced that the next song was dedicated to long-time Railroad Earth fan Greg Ross. “Seven Story Mountain” pulsed with emotion, and the textured jam was one of the best of the night. It also illustrated the band’s excellent balance and layering—each instrument settles in exactly where it needs to be, creating a fluid whole.
“All Alone” and “Raindance” brought back the soulful vocals of Renee, Lindsey and Henton, and following the bluegrass romp “Bringin’ My Baby Back Home,” the ladies rejoined the band for “Wade in the Water” (with Renee on lead vocals), “Hard Livin’ ” and the fiery “Head.” The latter was a fitting end to an inspired second set. Though a bit perfunctory, the “How Sweet It Is” encore (also with Renee on lead vocals) was well-played, and capped another enjoyable night with one of the best roots/Americana bands touring today.