One of the more buzzworthy rising alternatives to what Nashville has become arrived in Allston Thursday night, and played almost two hours of take-no-prisoners country music for a raucous, sold-out crowd. Sturgill Simpson has been earning that sort of evaluation on the strength of two solo records, the first of which, “High Top Mountain,” was an attempt to make, in his words, “the purest, most uncompromising, hard country album anyone has made in 30 years.” The second, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” while sonically similar, goes lyrically where few country records have gone before.
Responding to a shouted request early on, Simpson announced that he doesn’t use a set list and plays what he wants, so he’d “play ’em all.” That’s what he did, more or less, performing most of the songs from each of his albums, and going beyond for a few well-chosen covers, among them the trucker classic “Long White Line,” which had the rowdies in the house erupting into a singalong, and his fine take on the Stanley Brothers’ “Poor Rambler.”
Simpson moved with alacrity from the boom-chick propulsion of “Some Days” to the tear-up of “Life of Sin” (introduced with a hilarious, understated reference to David Letterman, on whose show he recently played the song) and the mordant wit of “You Can Have the Crown.” He veered from the hard-core honky-tonk of Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors” to the blistering, electric bluegrass of “A Little Light Within,” from plain-hewn acoustic splashes to electric space jams.
Perhaps more than anything else, Thursday’s performance showed how hard Simpson sings: He’s a body seemingly taken over by the act. That was most manifest when he slowed things down; the intensity generated by songs such as “Water in a Well,” and “The Promise” was almost unbearable.
Simpson was abetted by a three-piece band that was hitting on all cylinders. Guitarist Laur Joamets was a particular wonder: dropping blistering runs at one moment, mimicking the sound of steel or fiddle the next.
One more cover Simpson offered up Thursday was “Waymore’s Blues” by Waylon Jennings, a performer to whom he is often likened. Simpson has expressed some perplexity at the comparision. But if this show was any indication, the alternative that he presents to today’s Nashville sound, live even more than on record, is music with roots sunk deep into the spirit and the sound of that storied predecessor.Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.