LIVE: Sturgill Simpson – Gorilla, Manchester 12.07.16

Heralded as the sacrilegious saviour of alternative Country music, Gigslutz join Sturgill Simpson for his full-house Manchester show promoting his highly acclaimed release, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Gorilla at first might seem like a unlikely setting for a barnstorming set from Sturgill’s eight-piece entourage, yet midway through opener ‘Sitting Here Without You’ folks throughout the venue are whooping and hollering along each time he hits those high notes.

Hailing predominantly from New Orleans, the band tonight is incredibly on-point, with all the dynamism and gusto you could possibly hope for, however there seems to be something lacking on Simpon’s part. And that’s mainly the use of consonants. For the first part of the evening Sturgill’s southern drawl seems so lax it’s a real challenge to follow any lines of story telling within the songs – for non-diehard fans that is, who can’t naturally fill in the blanks themselves.

That’s not to say his performance is lacking in passion. Those denim-donning fans are screaming out for a reason. As his face contorts he pours forth with unmistakable countrified soul; his hot-blooded delivery bridges much of the lyrical void and to some extent still gets those emotions a-stirring. “You guys sure know how to make a girl feel good” reciprocates Sturgill before easing into the symphonic swelling organ of William Bell cover, ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’.

With casual panache the band eases into yet another upbeat swinging number, with the horns echoing the grandstand bombast of The Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ backing players. Slipping into a serene rendition of When In Rome’s ‘The Promise’, Saxophonist Brad Walker breaks into a showstopping solo, as Sturgill tenderly croons out-front. ‘Turtles All The Way Down’’s poignant drug-spiel is also a highlight as Sturgill candidly admits Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, and DMT. They all changed the way I see. But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life”.

 ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’ – performed in full – is certainly the showpiece of the evening. Cyclonic Sci-fi organ and rumbling rim-shot kit work add an atmospheric quality to the arrangements and Sturgill seems more assured, inspired and slowly, less in need of subtitles. The band’s symbiotic swagger and chemistry is definitely the evening’s saving grace. Riding solo tonight, Sturgill may arguably have not had the same magnetism and accessibility as contemporaries like Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle or Nathaniel Rateliff. The lush sonic sweep of ‘In Bloom’ drives this home, developing Nirvana’s frustrated anthem into a horn-heavy masterstroke.

David Weir