Railroad Earth delivered their acoustic rock and roll to the Fillmore Auditorium Saturday night for what was the second show of a two-night stand celebrating their newest studio album, Last of the Outlaws. While the band is known for their improvised instrumental conversations, it’s their lyrics that really stick out to me. Filled with story-laden imagery, they’ve worked their songs in the eyes of the great American songbook. Lead vocalist Todd Sheaffer knows just how to write the roots-based music, and his soft-spoken vocals fit the blue-collar ballads and bluegrass barnburners alike.
Opener Anders Osborne and his band of rollicking bayou rockers led a blitzkrieg through the early crowd. Those smart enough to make it in time caught the well-traveled New Orleans rhythm section of Eric Bolivar on drums and Carl Dufrene on bass. Playing to crowds like the Fillmore and joining artists on stage like Phil Lesh, Anders is no longer such a well-guarded secret around the French Quarter. His numerous albums and collaborations with his contemporaries have him out in front, and the opportunity to see him open for a band like Railroad Earth could soon be out of the question.
Tour seasoned Railroad Earth arrived to dark blue lights. The first song, Drag Him Down, was a classic bluegrass swing and one of the shorter songs of the evening. The band has a tendency to really drift along the confines of any given song, but they kicked rocks to get the audience locked in. Old Man and the Land was introduced to a raucous cheer and seemed to have segments built in for audience hollering. Andy Goessling and his banjo, however, was enough to have everyone cheering.
The first song debuted from their new album was When the Sun Gets in Your Blood, which started slow before morphing into a western romp with the instruments falling in line like a roaming caravan. Tim Carbone exchanged his violin for a Telecaster, and Andrew Altman hunched over his upright bass, working to put some weight behind the band. They brought things full circle with Cold Water, which had the similar, quick natured bounce of Drag Him Down to complete the bluegrass sandwich.
Like a Buddha spaced things out once the second set got moving. Mission Man incited the spirited audience, and among the fray was John Skehan’s steady mandolin. Guest Dan Sears even played on flugelhorn, adding a trumpet blast to the wandering narrative between vocals. The Hunting Song kept things rocking and illustrated the knack for visual songwriting the band possesses with their pastoral approach to acoustic rock and roll.
The second set closing multi-part composition All That’s Dead Again and Face With a Hole from the new album was a bold step. Tracks from Last of the Outlaws were scattered throughout the first and second sets, but it was really the closing sequence, rolling on for well over twenty minutes, that anchored the show. A departure from the vocal ballads and swinging bluegrass tunes, this moody musical journey flipped the script. Sheaffer brought the crowd back into it by singing Face With a Hole, after the crowd had stood unsure of whether to dance or just sort or sway.
After thanking the audience and exclaiming that they couldn’t think of a better place than Denver to release their album, they launched into a self-arranged take on The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, driven by Carey Harmon on drums. With a night of rocking, picking, and blurring the lines between the Americana and jam band labels behind them, it was on to the next one for Railroad Earth. Let it roll, baby, roll.