Many still think Sturgill Simpson’s performance of ‘Call to Arms’ on Saturday Night Live the most badass ever. Simpson performed harder than his Telecaster. The guitar, complete with rebel insignia was disrespectfully thrown to the ground at the end with a defiant scowl, classic rogue one. It is a brilliantly staged punk-like performance complete with Simonon-esque abuse. Simpson becomes almost shaman-like as he whips up the band near to a cacophony. I don’t think the NBC executives or the studio audience expected such in-yer-face energy. It is a great performance of a great song, the lyrics even more relevant now. Certainly, mumbling has never sounded so cool on a Saturday night.
However, he performed another song that night, ‘Keep it Between the Lines’. It better showcased the country-soul direction he’d taken on his third Grammy-winning album: ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’. That Grammy nomination probably got him the invite to appear on Saturday Night Live. The songs on the album ponder at the wonder, responsibility and downright fear that comes with new parenthood. Some sage advice and an apology for a life on the road: from a legitimate ex-seafaring dad now a touring musician.
‘Keep it between the Lines’ has some great lines, if not some bizarre advice, all packaged up with lots of brass and a funky beat. “Long as you stay in school/ Stay off the hard stuff/ And keep it between the lines”. A line worth waiting for: “It don’t have to be/ Like father, like son”. It is the one tune on the album that maybe makes you want to lose some cool and dance.
This time Sturgill Simpson is the epitome of cool. Dressed in black suit and sneakers, playing a classic Martin guitar, he nails a great live performance with the help of that same funky, overblown horn section. The band play as if they’re on limited shore leave and must squeeze the most enjoyment out of the time they have left, Simpson’s rigid jaw counter-balancing some frenetic dad moves. It’s less theatrical and more a celebration, and he’s clearly loving it. No son is going to be embarrassed watching this back in years to come… he’s the daddy.