At nine p.m. on the nose, Sturgill Simpson strode onto the Club Dada stage.
Shouldering his lightly battered acoustic guitar, the 36-year-old Kentuckian stepped to the microphone as if to speak.
But Simpson, a faint, knowing smile on his lips, didn’t need to say a word.
The electricity in the room was palpable — the feeling of 400 people, jammed in close and waiting for their chance to be unleashed, was intense, a sensation like climbing aboard a bull ready to be turned loose.
Saturday night in dreary, freezing Deep Ellum was one of Those Shows (or, to be more accurate, a pair of Those Shows).
Initially, Club Dada was planning to host a single Simpson concert, one which sold out in short order when tickets went on sale in August. (This date was his first since a show at the Foundry last September.) A decision was made to move the show out onto Dada’s back patio, which would allow the venue to double capacity.
Nature, however, had other plans.
When frigid temperatures and precipitation materialized, they quickly moved to offer an early show and a late show, both indoors, and refunds to those who couldn’t make either performance. Although the announcement of two concerts initially created some complaining and mild chaos, the whole situation, at least from my perspective as an attendee, was handled just about as smoothly as could possibly be hoped for.
“Sorry about all the back and forth,” Simpson said not long after arriving. “We wanted to give you the best show we could.”
Simpson is riding high on praise for his sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, a trippy throwback full of head-spinning lyrics and raw-boned style.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Simpson showcased precisely why so many people are losing their minds over his music — my social media feeds were littered with ecstatic exclamations from musicians and die-hard music lovers before, during and after Simpson’s shows — and made the most of a singular moment.
The packed house, straining to document it all on their phones, sang along lustily, beers hoisted high. For a night, anyway, a rock club felt like the coziest honky tonk in town.
Clad in a flannel shirt, jeans and Chuck Taylors, Simpson looked more like an Urban Outfitters clerk than the face of country music’s potential salvation. (Such expectations are not lost on him: “It’s been kind of a weird year, to say the least,” Simpson observed at one point. “I think the last time we played Dallas, there were about 16 people.”)
But appearances aside, Simpson, backed by an incredibly tight trio featuring Estonian guitarist Laur Joamets (whose extended solo on Sunday Valley's Sometimes Wine was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen this year), displayed an affinity for deep cuts and Nashville’s dusty, forgotten corners — for crying out loud, his encore opener was Steve Fromholz’s I’d Have to Be Crazy, from Simpson’s 2013 debut LP, High Top Mountain.
Such inspired choices marked him as something of a Music City crate-diving aficionado, comfortable weaving in his own material alongside tunes from Ralph Stanley ( Medicine Springs), Willie Nelson ( Sad Songs and Waltzes) and Lefty Frizzell ( I Never Go Around Mirrors).
Simpson worked through most of Metamodern, dipping into bluegrass-on-speed ( Long White Line), galactic navel-gazing ( Turtles All the Way Down) and hard-bitten observations ( Living the Dream). His voice most powerfully evokes Waylon Jennings, with a dash of Conway Twitty and Lefty Frizzell for good measure — an even, slicing, high baritone updating outlaw country for the age of Twitter.
Should Simpson pass through DFW again, he won’t be playing spaces like Club Dada — you could argue even this show should’ve been moved somewhere larger — but, selfishly, I’m glad events played out like they did.
An opportunity to see someone at this point in their career, right on the cusp of potentially exploding into something bigger, is rare enough as it is.
To have been fortunate enough to see Sturgill Simpson exceed expectations, feeding off the energy of a room riveted to his every syllable — well, that’s the kind of thing that restores your faith in music.