The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band didn’t mess with their formula at all for their return appearance at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Thursday night.
Before a nearly full house, the Dirt Band tackled just about every form of old-time roots music in existence, from country rock to bluegrass barn-burners (though they left the Western swing to openers Asleep at the Wheel). Of course, the band tackled all its hits from its ’70s and ’80s heyday, but this wasn’t necessarily a nostalgia fest — the band played with power, passion and energy, giving this music vitality beyond its age.
Taking the stage shortly after 9:30, the four-piece (as the Dirt Band has been since 2005) wasted no time, churning out a rocking version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” that gave everyone a chance to shine, vocally and instrumentally.
They kept up a breakneck pace early on in the show, firing out “Face on the Cutting Room Floor,” “Dance Little Jean” and a relatively new song, “Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me,” from the group’s 2009 offering “Speed of Life.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the performance was how truly full everything sounded. Each member of the band pulled double-duty (at least). John McEuen switched back and forth between mandolin and banjo for most of the night, Jimmie Fadden tackled drums and harmonica at the same time, and Bob Carpenter played multiple instruments, including bass, on his keyboard setup. Lead vocalist and guitarist Jeff Hanna certainly pulled his weight as well, adding texture on both acoustic and electric guitar.
Hits such as “Mr. Bojangles” and later on, “Fishin’ in the Dark,” got the crowd riled up, with the band managing to add a few new wrinkles to the old favorites. “Ripplin’ Waters” midway through the set turned into an extended jam of epic proportions, going from an upbeat lilt to a soulful conclusion thanks to Carpenter’s delicate piano playing.
But perhaps best of all was another of the band’s hits, “Workin’ Man (Nowhere To Go),” also played toward the middle of the evening. The song’s working-class message bears weight today, and Hanna in particular delivered a passionate performance as the audience, unbidden, sang along.
Texas swing torchbearers Asleep at the Wheel played a howling hour-long opening set that got the crowd going from the moment the seven-piece band walked on stage.
Opening number “Cherokee Maid” proved that even after four decades, the group has some kick in it.
Drummer David Sanger shone through especially on the song’s rollicking outro rhythm changes.
The band was just warming up, though, upping the intensity on “Miles and Miles of Texas” and the bouncy “Route 66.” Frontman, lead guitarist and founding member Ray Benson was the star of the show. His towering height made for a good focal point, but beyond that his vocal presence was commanding, especially on the ballad “Faded Love” toward the middle of the set.
His duet with Elizabeth McQueen on “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” where he sang the part originally recorded by Willie Nelson, was another highlight, with the two vocalists perfectly complementing each other.