Enmore Theatre, October 3
Buskers who migrate to the world stage tend retain the flair, immediacy and audience rapport that once arrested pedestrians. Old Crow Medicine Show hit the stage as a marching band singing Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35, and it was so rambunctious that people stopped playing with their phones. No, seriously!
Once upon a time a bloke called Anonymous was such a good songwriter that everyone covered his work. Because this was not just before smart phones but even before recording Anonymous faded from memory, but his songs lived on as “traditionals”. Old Crow’s celebration of Dylan’s pivotal, Nashville-recorded, 1966 album Blonde on Blonde is not dissimilar. Of course Dylan won’t become anonymous, but this crazy mob of country pickers shoehorn his songs into their hillbilly way of doing things, and the enduring Americana tradition is immeasurably enriched.
The Old Crows don’t reinvent the songs so much as make them more combustible, albeit sometimes at the expense of the lyrics. While this backfired on Just Like a Woman (which lost its tenderness), it ignited a blazing Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, an ebullient I Want You and a frenzied Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (complete with zany choreography).
The show fizzed throughout thanks to singer Ketch Secor’s amusing and slightly manic stage presence, to the constant swapping of instruments among the sextet, and to four of them sharing the lead vocals, including, of course, Critter Fuqua, Secor’s pal since their school days. All members other than bassist Morgan Jahnig were multi-instrumentalists, so their roadie was run off his feet re-allocating guitars, banjos, fiddles and mandolins between songs, in addition to the drums, harmonica, keyboard and accordion.
If you want to define fun musically, Old Crow is it, and having done with Bob their encore set was largely a spontaneous, heartfelt tribute to Tom Petty (I Won’t Back Down, Breakdown and American Girl). Thickening the mix the enchanting (if often shrill-voiced) Valerie June and her Memphis band opened the show.