Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours followed up their 2014 raucous Boston performance with much more of a slow burn when they hit the Wilbur Theater this time around. But once the fuse was lit, the Wrangler jean, big belt buckled, trucker hat-clad band knew how to stoke the fire until it burned the house down. Pharmacist by trade (is there a better “day job” for a rock star?), lead singer Evan Felker looked both somber and sober as he lead the band through the melodic tune “The Bird Hunters”, the hard driving “The Mercury”, and the more mainstream country of “Down Here”, which are the first three songs from the recently released self-titled album. Given how new the material was, only the die-hard fans recognized the tracks, which was unfortunate given the album may be their strongest effort to date. In fairness to the band, the unusually lethargic Boston audience, comprised mostly of college co-eds, seemed to be suffering from the early week and late night set time. However, the large female contingent offered the good-looking Felker strong encouragement from the jump. While the floor did begin to pick up on the energy in the beginning, the vibe dissipated in the larger room; the floor was jammed, the mezzanine full, but the balcony was closed.
A cover of the Old 97’s “Doreen” featuring guitarist Ryan Engelman’s straight edge razor sounding Telecaster got a few feet shuffling. But it wasn’t until Felker switched to banjo and fiddler Kyle Nix offered up a dark, stripped down version of “Gin, Smoke and Lies” complete with Bolero like bridge that the band and audience began to work together. Bassist R.C. Edwards and drummer Gabe Pearson drove “Before The Devil knows Your Dead”, a take on an old Irish proverb which was particularly popular given Boston’s Irish history. Felker, who writes songs of small towns and big disappointments can turn a phrase: “Robbie’s got a brand new girlfriend/she’s got a script for pills/These here man they’re the good ones/Counting those ten dollar bills” while the fiddle, harmonica, accordion and Dobro melodies and vocal harmonies fill country riff after riff. By “Whole Damn Town” and “Good Lord Lorrie” the band was cooking and the place was hopping. The set list drew from all of the band’s four releases: the out of print, impossible to find Bossier City, Diamonds and Gasoline, and Goodbye Normal Street. The songs “Bossier City”, which featured the only improvisation of the night and “Easton and Main”, deconstructed live, also appear on the new release.
Having captured control of the audience and evening, Felker went solo accompanied by just Dobro for the moving “Diamonds and Gasoline”, Nix and Edwards then joined in for a spiritual delivery of Jesse Winchester’s “Mississippi Your On My Mind” and the mini-set concluded with Edwards taking the vocals on a cover of Dawes’ “All Your Favorite Bands”. The break was perfectly placed, contrastingly nicely with set-closer “Long Hot Summer Days” and the encore, “Blue Star”, which unfortunately came right at the eleven PM curfew mark, suddenly feeling too early for the now frenzied audience.