Railroad Earth defies categorization in Charlotte

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Railroad Earth
Visulite Theater
Charlotte, North Carolina
February 28, 2009

Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed, placed in narrow categories where their attributes are ascribed and they are stereotyped based on pre-conceived notions.  It’s human nature to avoid this type-casting, and Railroad Earth doesn’t want to be pinned in by your box either.  This group of six virtuosos has been called country, bluegrass, an amplified string band with drums, and even country and Eastern, but their fans know them by their lyrical beauty, instrumental prowess, and refusal to be defined. 

To many of their devoted, they are simply “rock and roll” at its finest.

rre1.jpgRRE filled the Visulite in Charlotte with a sold-out assorted crowd, but no one seemed to mind the elbow-to-elbow situation once that band took the stage.  The opener, “Right in Tune,” a swaying love song from their 2008 album Amen Corner, set the tone for a night filled with tunes spanning their entire catalog.

“Colorado” echoed a longing for the mountains and summertime, while the classic “Reuben’s Train” showcased some bluegrass roots and poetic justice, as lead singer Todd Shaeffer crooned about train and travels.

The set closed with two crowd favorites, the intense and plucky fiddle-driven “Mighty River,” which gave way to the blazing instrumental frenzy of “Waterfountain Quicksand,” further illustrating the band’s ability to switch genre gears and continuously surprise its rabid audience.

The second set opened with sing-along “Give That Boy a Hand” and “420,” but the showstopper moments came with the arrival of Nate Leath (of opening act Old School Freight Train) onto the stage.  Leath stood firm with lead fiddle master Tim Carbone on “Goat” and “All Alone,” whipping the crowd into a shouting fury as they swayed and dueled trying to best each other all in the name of the music.

rre2.jpgAlthough Shaeffer is considered by some the leader of the band since he occupies the main singer/songwriter slots, Carbone always manages to steal the show as a fiddler who attacks and devours the music.  His forceful bowing evokes thoughts of greats like Vassar Clements, only with even bigger balls.

“Real Love” followed in the wake of the collaboration, cooling the crowd off briefly before letting loose on a 12-minute “Head,” a song that exemplifies all that is good with RRE.  Parts you can sing, blustery fiddle and mandolin solos, and meaningful lyrics, “Me I’ll be out flyin’, tryin’ to turn on my own head!”  The crowd was really feeding the band at this point and the energy was palpable because of the connection.

The set closer, “Fruitful Acre,” with its shuffling drums and frolicking fiddle provided an extra little romp at the end of a killer set. 

The Band’s “Arcadian Driftwood” carried us lazily into the encore, revealing continued depth and meaning in song choice and pleasing many faithfuls in the multitude.  A proper set-up for self-explanatory closer, “Peace on Earth,” that left the gathering clapping their hands, smiling and satisfied at what they just witnessed and requiring absolutely no further definition.

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