If you’ve never heard of the Turnpike Troubadours, you’re not alone but you’re also not part of the throng that adores the quintet from Oklahoma, including the 2,000-plus fans who over-filled the Uptown Theater on Saturday night and sang along feverishly to nearly every song,
The Troubadours are a red-dirt band, which means their sound is a blend of rock, blues, bluegrass, folk and traditional country with other sundry accents, including the occasional twist of Cajun music. It’s not modern country by any measure, but at its best it’s accessible as anything on Top 40 radio: melodic, hooky and well-crafted, cast in acoustic and electric guitars, accordion, fiddle, pedal steel, the occasional blues harp and girded with bass and drums.
Saturday’s set list bounded about the band’s catalog, which goes back to 2007 and comprises four full-lengths, including its latest, “The Turnpike Troubadours,” released in September 2015.
Their sound evokes a small tide of comparisons: Tom Petty, Todd Snider, Steve Earle, the Gourds and, when the harmonies get bright and thick, the Everly Brothers. Frontman Evan Felker has a charming ease about him, both while he’s singing and between songs. He has the looks of a former boy-band idol, much different from his band mates, who look like they just finished their shift in an oil field, save for their drummer, Giovanni Carnuccio, who bears a resemblance to a younger Bun E. Carlos, without the mustache.
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They are a band that is as tight as it is freewheeling and footloose, and, seemingly with ease, they can whip a big crowd into a fervor. The opener, “Morgan Street,” was the first of about two dozen songs that ignited an uproarious sing-along. Their music isn’t bro’ country in the slightest, but a significant majority of the crowd was male. (There were long lines into the men’s rooms, short ones into the ladies’ rooms.)
The show was a long blast of energy and enthusiasm, like one long and joyous encore. A few songs elicited more euphoria than others, like “1968,” a song that alludes to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King; “Quit While I’m Ahead,” which includes biting lyrics like “I’m busted, broke and bent and beat and about halfway to dead / Ah, maybe I should quit while I’m ahead”; “Good Lord Lorrie,” which rhymes “break my jaw” with “Arkansas”; and “The Mercury,” which ignited the most infernal sing-along of the night.
They played two covers that fit in seamlessly among their own material: Tom T. Hall’s “Fox on the Run” and Tom Waits’ “Old Shoes (and Picture Postcards).”
But mostly this was a band showcasing its keen songwriting and boisterous live show, singing to a large, evangelical choir but attracting some new believers in the process.
Morgan Street; 1968; Every Girl; 7 and 7; Quit While I’m Ahead; Good Lord Lorrie; Blue Star; Easton and Main; Fox on the Run; Evangeline; The Funeral; The Mercury; Cherokee County Line; Down Here; Gin, Smoke, Lies; Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead; Come As You Are; Whole Damn Town; Bossier City; Diamonds and Gasoline; Old Shoes (and Picture Postcards); Long Hot Summer Day.