This town produces and supports a variety of music genres but as much as anything, Kansas City loves country music, whether it’s from the big-label commercial country acts who get lots of radio airplay and fill the Sprint Center, like George Strait or Brad Paisley, or the acts on small labels who get no commercial airtime — like Old Crow Medicine Show.
Old Crow is a six-piece string band that plays a combination of bluegrass, old-time country and country laced lightly with a punk attitude. Every once in a while, it throws in some harmonica, which adds a bluesy accent. Along the wide spectrum of string bands, Old Crow falls about halfway between the formal, polished sound of the Del McCoury Band and the feral, unhinged sound of bands like Split Lip Rayfield. Things get freewheeling now and then, but it never quite feels like the train is going to leave the tracks.
They opened Saturday’s 95-minute set with “Carry Me Back,” a rousing fiddle tune about a Civil War soldier that sounds of the Civil War era. Like most of the songs that followed, it was filled with bursts of fiddle and guitar and lots of vocal harmonies. It got the crowd moving right away. “Carry Me” is also the title track on the band’s newest recording, which was released last week. It wasn’t available for sale in Kansas City, however, because the van containing all the band’s merchandise was stolen in St. Louis in Friday, a misfortune that was mentioned several times throughout the show.
Fans showed their support otherwise with lots of dancing and singing along. Much of the big crowd seemed familiar with older material, like “Alabama High-Test,” “Humdinger,” “Methamphetamine” and “Wagon Wheel,” which ignited one of the loudest sing-alongs of the night.
Ketch Secor is the band’s leader, but he shares the spotlight with every other member. Kevin Hayes, who plays the guitjo — a six string banjo with a guitar neck — took the lead vocal on “Humdinger,” a gust of raw country blues. They played several songs from the new record. None was more raucous than “Mississippi Saturday Night,” a high-speed song that rides a throbbing bass line and a hail of banjo and guitjo riffs and some harmonica lines from Secor.
Another highlight was “Cocaine Habit,” a jug-band-blues odyssey that feels born in the ’60s. They covered Bill Monroe’s “Fire on the Mountain” and added a chorus or two of “This Land Is Your Land” to “I Hear Them.”
During the encore, Mead and his band joined Old Crow for covers of Moon Mullican’s “Cherokee Boogie” and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
When that one was over and everyone on stage took a big, low bow, the house was still nearly filled with fans who like their country music built the old-fashioned way.
Set list: Carry Me Back; Alabama High-Test; Big Time in the Jungle; Bootlegger’s Boy; Fire on the Mountain; Levi; Half-Mile Down; Mississippi Saturday Night; Mary’s Kitchen; Humdinger; Methamphetamine; Take ‘Em Away; Steppin’ Out; Rockin’ in the Weary Land; James River Blues; Ain’t It Enough; Wagon Wheel; Cocaine Habit Blues; I Hear Them All/This Land Is Your Land; Cherokee Boogie; The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
| Timothy Finn, The Star