Flying lessons

Rodney Crowell and band take the Big Room into orbit

THE REAL DEAL Songwriter Rodney Crowell’s brilliant Tuesday-night concert was videotaped to be part of the PBS series <i>Sierra Center Stage</i>.

THE REAL DEAL Songwriter Rodney Crowell’s brilliant Tuesday-night concert was videotaped to be part of the PBS series Sierra Center Stage.

Photo By Tom Angel

Rodney Crowell
Sierra Nevada Big Room
Tues., Sept. 7

Kicking off with “Earthbound” from his recent Fate’s Right Hand album, with its closing coda, “Earthbound—see the sky big and beautiful blue/ Earthbound—fallen angels are talkin’ to you/ Earthbound—keepin’ close to the ground, think I might stick around,” Crowell immediately set the tone for a two-and-one-half hour concert that neatly balanced his unshakable belief in life’s goodness with his unflinching examinations of the sources of pain that define the human condition.

By the fourth song, “Preachin’ to the Choir,” which jumps along with a bubbling bass line, the crowd had packed the dance floor in appreciation of the beautifully tight playing of bassist Denny Bixby and drummer Trey Landry, and when guitarist extraordinaire Will Kimbrough started laying down amazingly fluid Fender Stratocaster leads over the top of Crowell’s and Bixby’s syncopated rhythm and bass trade-offs, it appeared that the band could have played the song for an hour and kept everyone happy.

And speaking of keeping people happy, it was impossible not to notice the appreciation showered on the slender, handsome Crowell by the many ladies in attendance. It might have been simply the aesthetic pleasure of his deeply unbuttoned denim shirt and nicely fitted trousers, but it’s even more likely that Crowell’s charm is rooted in the honest sentiments expressed in his lyrics and the good-humored way he can tell a sentimental story.

His introductory monologue to “Ridin’ Out the Storm,” about a failed and possibly misguided attempt to go out and shed his liberal blessings on the homeless of New York for the moral edification of his eldest daughter, was both funny and touching. And the song’s recounting of the event with the lines, “I offered him my winter coat, politely he refused/ Like an educated man he spoke with words I seldom use/ He said I don’t need pity for these choices are my own/ He bowed his head just slightly and quietly moved along,” sung over a gently melancholic, unpretentiously ornate melody, conveyed the sentiment of the moment beautifully.

And then the evening got down to rocking out, starting with the liberal empowerment anthem “Don’t Get Me Started,” segueing into the mutated Bo Diddley riff of “Say It” and topped off by a slightly weird baby-boomer sing-along of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Crowell’s classic “Ain’t Living Long like This” slipped in right before “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and it was in perfect company.

For an encore Crowell started out solo on "(I Know) Love Is All I Need," which he finished with the whole band, and then, having said goodnight again, they all came back out and polished off the evening with some pure country that included the lines, "It’s hard to kiss the lips at night/ that chewed your ass out all day long," which left the audience laughing and feeling like they’d just spent the evening hanging out with a particularly brilliant, articulate and charmingly rowdy friend.