It’s hard not to admire Sturgill Simpson’s refusal to give two hoots about expectations. This is a man who followed his breakthrough album of psychedelic-but-hard country with one of Southern soul, which duly won him a Grammy for best country album, and then followed that with one of 80s-style electro hard rock. All three were excellent, but how would he meld these disparate styles on stage?
As it turns out, by once again not giving two hoots, and turning everything into a long, hugely tedious trudge along the highways of lumpy, dumpy Southern rock. Solo follows solo and on unto eternity, and the booming sound of a not-quite-full Forum makes everything Simpson sings unintelligible: from upstairs, it sounds like he’s doing an impression of a trapped dog, all mournful yelps and barks.
Little more than an hour into the show – though it feels much longer – significant gaps are starting to appear in the balcony seating. But this is a performance on Simpson’s terms. The emptiness of the front and centre of the stage seems telling, a warning to the audience not to expect him to be here for them; instead he stands a good way back, stage right, behind an arc of monitors. When he does come forward he disappears, because the lighting – an unchanging dim red, of the kind that would have the opening band in a pub back room complaining about the cheapness – doesn’t reach the front of the stage.
It’s very frustrating, because when Simpson plays ballads rather than chooglin’ away like he’s in his garage with his buddies, there are moments of beauty. But there is a great deal less beauty than boredom. There’s a lot of boredom. My God, there’s so much boredom.