Photos by David P. Tracer
Railroad Earth, the New Jersey based rock ‘n’ roll, jamgrass, and Country & Eastern band, returned to the Rocky Mountains to ring in the New Year after last playing a New Year’s run there 6 years ago. The run began with 2 shows at the intimate, and very sold out, Fox Theatre in Boulder on December 29 and 30 and culminated in a New Year’s Eve show at Denver’s historic Paramount Theatre. Notable at all of the shows was the new Moth backdrop (actually 2 of them, one in changing colors and the other, black and white) that incorporated, among other things, a lotus, a hobo sign and a skull.
The first night in Boulder began strong right out of the gate with a jamming “Mission Man” that segued seamlessly into “The Hunting Song.” The set also featured old favorites “Drag Him Down” and “Saddle of the Sun” as well as the newer John Skehan tune, “Farewell to Isinglass” and the brand new Andrew Altman composition, “Only By the Light,” off of their excellent new EP release, Captain Nowhere. The first set ended with the 1-2 punch of “The Old Man and the Land” directly into “Seven Story Mountain,” an appropriately mystical song about endings, beginnings, and finding one’s way through the meandering and sometimes complex course of existence.
Second set began on a zoological note with “Bird in a House” followed by “Monkey,” a song that speaks of us quite literally ending another December and pulling into the New Year (while trying to keep the monkeys off our backs!). The band then dug deep, going all the way back to their first album, The Black Bear Sessions, for “Lordy, Lordy” and “Chains.” The second set also featured two new songs off of the Captain Nowhere EP, the Carbone-led “Raven’s Child” and “Blazin’ a Trail” as well as several tunes that showed off the band’s incredible ability to take their songs way out and eventually bring the jam back to familiar territory. Tonight these tunes included “The Forecast” and an incredible non-stop jamfest of “All That’s Dead May Live Again > Tuba Mirum >Face with a Hole > Warhead Boogie” before ending sweetly with a tribute to the recently passed Tom Petty, “Wildflowers.” It was notable that for a first show of a run, the band was clearly chugging along on all cylinders tonight. Also notable was bassist Andrew Altman dropping bombs and keeping a funky pocket all night on his new 5 string bass. He was clearly enjoying playing it and we certainly enjoyed dancing to it!
Rumor had it that the theme for this show was “Happy Brigade” and wouldn’t you know it, the show began with a fun, bouncy “Just So You Know” (which references the Happy Brigade). The joyous atmosphere set by the opener would permeate tonight’s show from start to finish. A “Shockenaw Mountain Breakdown” would give way to a love-filled “When the Sun Gets in Your Blood” followed by the sing-along “Came Up Smilin’.” Tim Carbone then took the lead vocals for the George Harrison tune, “Any Road,” which was most appropriate since none of us really knows for sure where 2018 will lead us but we’re going there for sure! Two mountain-themed songs closed out the set, “Grandfather Mountain” and the Bill Monroe classic, “Fire on the Mountain.” [Editor’s Note: Not the Grateful Dead tune of the same name].
Second set continued the “happy” theme of the evening with a “Jupiter and the 119” that led directly into “Happy Song.” The set also featured mando player and keyboardist John Skehan’s new instrumental “The Berkeley Flash,” a cover of Robert Earl Keen’s “For Love” and a rare pairing of “Black Elk Speaks” into “Black Bear.” The set closed with “I Am a Mess,” which of course appropriately mentions a “bar in Colorado.” A gorgeous encore of the Gregg Allman-penned tune “Melissa” led us out into the cool thin Colorado air. And then it was on to Denver for the New Year’s Eve show!
A majestic old art deco theatre, balloons on the ceiling, a festive impeccably dressed crowd and we were ready for the New Year’s Eve show! I have to say that over the decades, I have been to many New Year’s Eve runs of many different bands and it almost always seems to me that the best shows of the run seem invariably to happen the night before New Year’s (12/30/17). But the actual New Year’s show, while fun and celebratory, always seems to be a notch below. Not this time!
The band emerged dressed in suits and launched into a funky cover of Tim O’Brien’s “Walk Beside Me.” It was so appropriate since we were about to “put one foot in front of the other, stepping into the here and now”. A jamming “Head” was next, followed by “Dance Around Molly>Dandelion Wine.” The set took on a slightly serious but very timely tone with “Addin’ My Voice” but it quickly morphed into pure gobs of the sweetest honey with the seldom played love song, “Said What You Mean.” After Tom Waits’ “Cold Water” with Todd Sheaffer on harmonica, the set finished off with four completely jammed out crowd pleasers: “Goat >Captain Nowhere >Spring-Heeled Jack and Long Way To Go.”
The second set began with Father Time (Papa Phil Kalstrom) coming out and exhorting us with messages of hope and love for 2018. Dancers in 1920’s flapper garb also took the sides of the stage and the anticipation of the crowd became palpable at this point. The band launched into “Storms” to open the set – again quite appropriate and timely (“all these storms I know we’ll weather, all these storms we’ll ride together”) followed by the debut of one of Bob Dylan’s lesser known songs, “Rambling, Gambling Willie.” As the tune reached its close, a screen was lowered over the stage and the countdown to the New Year began. As the balloons fell from the ceiling, confetti scattered around the crowd and friends and lovers alike hugged and kissed, the band launched into their own ramblin’, gamblin’ song, “Elko,” followed by the Latin-flavored instrumental “El Cumbanchero” and then, appropriately, “Colorado.”
And even as the first set had closed with a jamming quartet of songs, so did this set with a jamming song quintet: “Where Songs Begin >Fisherman’s Blues,” “12 Wolves,” “Like A Buddha > Give That Boy A Hand.” Then came the very special encore of the three show run: Garcia/Hunter’s “The Wheel” into a song that had been often-requested but not played since 2009, “Waggin’ the Dog.” And with the final reminder that the politicians are mostly blowing smoke and blowing fog, the perma-smiling crowd emerged from The Paramount Theatre prepared to take on 2018 and Railroad Earth’s 2018 Winter Tour…
Railroad Earth @ Fox Theatre – Boulder, CO 12/29/17
Set 1: Mission Man ->The Hunting Song, Drag Him Down, Saddle Of The Sun, Farewell to Isinglass ->Only by the Light, Old Man and The Land ->Seven Story Mountain
Set 2: Bird in a House, Monkey. Lordy, Lordy, Chains, Blazin’ a Trail, The Forecast, Raven’s Child, Chasin’ a Rainbow, All That’s Dead May Live Again ->Tuba Mirum ->Face with a Hole ->Warhead Boogie ->Wildflowers
Encore: Bringin’ My Baby Back Home
Railroad Earth @ Fox Theatre – Boulder, CO 12/30/17
Set 1: Just So You Know, Shockenaw Mountain Breakdown, When the Sun Gets in Your Blood, Came Up Smilin’, Any Road, Potter’s Field ->Lone Croft Farewell, Carrying Coal To Newcastle ->Grandfather Mountain, Fire On The Mountain
Set 2: The Jupiter and the 119, Happy Song, The Good Life, For Love, The Berkeley Flash ->Mighty River, Bread And Water, Black Elk Speaks ->Black Bear ->Stillwater Getaway -> I am a Mess
Railroad Earth @ Paramount Theatre – Denver, CO 12/31/17
Set 1: Walk Beside Me ->Head, Dance Around Molly ->Dandelion Wine, Addin’ My Voice,
Said What You Mean, Cold Water, Goat ->Captain Nowhere ->Spring-Heeled Jack, Long Way To Go
Set 2: Storms, Rambling, Gambling Willie, Countdown to 2018, Elko, El Cumbanchero,
Colorado, Where Songs Begin ->Fisherman’s Blues, 12 Wolves, Like A Buddha ->Give That Boy A Hand
Encore: The Wheel, Waggin’ the Dog