Review: Railroad Earth @ The Aladdin

I missed the first evening, Land. Marv and L.T. showed me the set list, though, and the band kept it pretty well grounded. Songs like Been Down this Road, Colorado and The Hunting Song kept the concept alive. L.T. told me that the encore from the night before, Donkey For Sale, had brought tears to her eyes while she danced. Marv chimed in that she never stopped smiling all the while. With that, the house lights dimmed and Railroad Earth walked on stage, instruments in hand and ready to treat us to their “Sea” section of the celebration.

They opened with Cold Water, from their debut The Black Bear Sessions. The way the band traded licks as they warmed to the stage was remarkable. Their crisp harmonies brought to mind old time-y gospel choirs while the interplay of Tim Carbone’s violin/fiddle with John Skehan’s mandolin reminded me of an old Loggins & Messina show I had seen when I was a teenager. Todd Schaeffer’s acoustic guitar picking drove the middle of this song with the clarity of Jerry Garcia and the fluidity of Robert Cray. By the third song, Mighty River (catching the theme here?), Howie to my left was sweat soaked and in his zone. I was amazed he didn’t knock anyone over with his wild dance moves, but it seemed the entire crowd danced in unison. They seemed to be acting as each other’s shock absorbers, keeping their brothers and sisters upright while bouncing, twirling and swirling.

For me, the first set highlight was 1759. This instrumental has a European feel, almost gypsy like. Heavy upright bass lines from Johnny Grubb and crackerjack drumming by Carey Harmon held down the rhythm while the rest of the band seemed to use every inch of every fret of every string on stage. There was a great mandolin/fiddle duel toward the end that had the already standing crowd jumping and howling, roaring their approval. They finished the first set of the night with Waggin The Dog from their latest release, Amen Corner. It was during this picking fest that I realized I had been jumping and twirling with rest of the hobos. Just another sweaty tourist in the front row.

Apparently, my right elbow got pretty personal with the left breast of the gal next to me, the aforementioned Sam, during a few of the more exuberant moments in the first set. When I apologized, she said “Don’t worry about it. I used to be a punk rock chick in the nineties.” I told her she looked familiar, that maybe I had been the one who grabbed her ass when she stage dived at a Melvins show in Seattle.

The second set went pretty much like the first. Say What You Mean was followed by another smoking instrumental, The Green Roofs of Eireann. Stretching out over eleven minutes (Hell yeah, I timed it) the interplay was simply ferocious. It was another of those moments you wait for, when all six musicians, five drums, twenty eight strings and a crowd of hundreds are hitting on all eight cylinders and purred right along. And when it was over, that warm feeling like all is right in the world settles over you like a homemade quilt.

Not too much time to dwell on it, though, as they segued into Like A Buddha and got the crowd singing and shouting along with the chorus. Without missing a beat, RRE jammed their way into Moonshiner and then, I Am A Mess. The dance floor area up front was really crowded by now and no one cared. The sweat poured out, water bottles were passed around, elbows hit breasts, just another dancer in the chorus line.

The band seemed to sense the need to change the pace a bit and put Johnny Grubb’s slow, soulful bass line out front to begin All Alone. All Alone was a slow starter, that worked its way up to a frenzy, rang out and ramped up till there was no one left sitting, and that included the people in the bar next door.

Getting back to the water/sea theme, they finished their set with the tri-fecta of Stillwater Getaway, Raindance and the Waterboys’ debut album title cut, Fisherman’s Blues. The latter was a wonderful surprise (for me at least) and made it easy to source one of this band’s influences. Right down to Andy Goessling’s pennywhistle opening, this song fit the band perfectly and was a fitting false ending for the show.

Encore time came quickly and they made the best of it as well. Water Fountain Quicksand, the feel good Came Up Smiling and, finally, Crossing The Gap were the last songs we heard this night. Referencing their home state by “. . . Taking the train from the Jersey side . . .” got both Howie and I jumping and twirling again. The band finished and, with all the bowing and thank you-ing out of the way, the house lights came up. Howie and I exchanged man hugs and high fives, promising to meet the next night for the Air portion of the program. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it, but I was going to try. And if I did make it, I would bring a change of clothes.

Well, I didn’t make it to the New Years Eve show for the Air sets. I heard from a few of my new hobo friends who said it was phenomenal. Three sets, no repeats from the previous two nights and a killer version of Warhead Boogie some time after midnight. They also thought the finale, Little Rabbit, shut the three day series down with a bang. They actually called me from the road, somewhere on I-84, heading back to Montana. I could hear Like A Buddha in the background. The conversation was interrupted by the chorus and accompanying shout a few times. Brought me right back to the floor of the Aladdin. I was still smiling like a Buddha.

Rock on through this year’s fog,

A.J. Crandall

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11 Responses

  1. Great article! Gave me a huge smile to see my name and breast mentioned in a RRE review. hehehhhehe! BTW Nevada City is in California, by Tahoe. Thanks for making me smile like a Boobda!

    This was an amazing run of shows, and the greatest, simply graceful grounding NYE I could ask for. Big ups to the awesome railriding hobo crew. Thanks for the sips of wine and water. 🙂

  2. AJ:

    The night you caught live was also broadcast live and a bunch of us hobos across the country enjoyed along with our brethren and sistren in Portland and chatted away in the chat room, what a treat! It was a great show, a really great show and we so appreciated that Railroad Earth Management approved the broadcast (free by the way) so it was an extra treat. And, for those of us on the east coast, given the time difference, it was actually a New Year’s Eve show! Special thanks to Josh and the magic of technology!

    Rockin Randi

  3. Awesome reveiw. i got goosebumps. i miss my fellas. Im totally bummed i couldnt make it. but happy new years to all my hobos, see you all soon.

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  5. Great shows- I have been catching these guys as much as possible over the last few years and they are getting beter and better. They are taking more chances and the benefits are fantastic. The feeling reminds me of a band from San Fransico that I caught a few times in the last 40 years.

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