Star rating - 10/10
The sweetest pleasures in life are always unexpected, and if you are lucky enough to get to an Old Crow Medicine Show gig, be assured there will be absolutely nothing guilty about it. This group of Nashville ex-buskers certainly give one helluva live show, and have accumulated an adoring fan base who help to make the night something pretty special indeed.
At Manchester's Ritz (all mentions of HMV having been hastily dropped) last night, they thrilled from start to finish. Their particularly heady fusion of country, bluegrass, Cajun music, and who knows what else, is hard to categorise. One fan told me he thought of them as 'bluegrass punks', and I like that. One thing is certain, their energy levels for the duration of their superb, long set are unsurpassed, right from the opener Carry Me Back to Virginia onwards.
And fabulous front man Ketch Secor had certainly done his homework on Manchester, pleasing the crowd with his impressive knowledge of the city's waterways and history, not to mention the numerous name checks for the city. He amusingly made the connection between his home and ours - they used to grow cotton where they come from and we had mills to weave it, but now we all just make computers! But, great front man though Secor is, in truth one of the refreshing things about OCMS is that all the band take turns at playing a lead role in parts of their repertoire. It all felt very inclusive with a collective spirit that can only come from their busking past.
And whilst their gigs certainly have a party atmosphere, there's a serious political note to some of their songs too, like the splendid Big Time In the Jungle, with its anti war, bring the troops home sentiment. Many of the songs were from the OCMS latest and fourth album Carry Me Back. Genevieve is a gorgeous slower number about a Creole enchantress. Mississippi Saturday Night showing off the brilliance of this group of six talented musicians on their many acoustic instruments.
Older numbers got plenty of space too, and who couldn't listen to the crowd sing along to every word of the glorious and joyous Wagon Wheel and feel inspired, now lovingly covered by many other artists and would-be guitar players like myself across the world. OCMS do great covers themselves too, including songs of Eddie Cochran and the legend that is Woody Guthrie. There was a bit of crazy back to back double fiddling thrown in to entertain between Secor and Chance McCoy too (what a name!).
And to show what generous big hearts they have, OCMS not only welcomed their support act L.A. duo Johnnyswim back on stage to perform with them in the encore, but also a group of buskers who have followed them on tour and have now become adoptees of the OCMS family. This band have not forgotten their roots, in fact they celebrate them. And what an encore it was, including a rousing version of the gospel gem This Train; Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town (yes that's Salford), and only a country version of The Smiths Panic. I ask you - what more could you want? It might not have been exactly a Mississippi Saturday Night, but it certainly came as close to it as downtown Manchester is ever going to get. Simply stupendous.