There is a fine line between showmanship and a charcuterie board of ham and cheese. Last night at the Cistern, Nashville's Old Crow Medicine Show straddled the line between both with a locomotive breathless performance underneath the live oaks on the beautiful College of Charleston campus.
Always entertaining, Old Crow is a well-oiled old-time, grass-rock machine that plays to the crowd with ease and a much-welcomed cheekiness. The Cisten audience lapped it up. Sometimes, however, the band's ability to hit all the narrative beats of an hour-and-a-half show with single-minded precision created the feeling that even the group's improvised moments are carefully crafted.
None of this is a knock on the band, a rip-roaring ensemble of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists. It's just that if you crave absolute authenticity from musical acts, you're sure to be disappointed in Old Crow, who return to rock the Cistern tonight at 9 p.m. If you have a taste for the theatrical — and since this is Spoleto, you should — then you'll find plenty to enjoy in the on-stage antics and instrumental daring-do from band leader Ketch Secor and the gang.
Old Crow kicked off their Cisten show with a Talladega 500 version of their 2004 track "Tell It to Me," a glorious romp that would provide the night with the first of many references to cocaine, a fitting subject for Charleston given the town's particular medicinal proclivities. After all, there's a reason the most famous native Charlestonian alive today is Thomas Ravenel, the disgraced one-time South Carolina state treasurer and current reality TV show star of "Southern Charm," and that something is cocaine.
With Secor leading the charge, Old Crow followed up "Tell It to Me" with two more Dodge Chargers, "Alabama High Test" and "Take 'Em Away." The latter featured guitarist-banjo player-drummer Critter Fuqua, with both Secor and guitarist-banjo and fiddle player Chance McCoy adding to the harmonies. Later McCoy would also get the chance to shine behind the mic as a lead vocalist, adding a welcome dose of blues rock to the proceedings
However, as good as these three gentlemen were they were upstaged again and again by keyboardist-mandolin player-drummer Cory Younts and guitjo player and vocalist Kevin Hayes. While Hayes provided an impish, almost Johnny Rotten-like spirit whenever he took to the mic — if not a bit of an endearing Ringo quality given Hayes' limited range and unique voice — Younts stole the show, first, with his clogging and later his whistling. Whatever qualms anyone may have had with Old Crow they surely faded when Younts and Hayes were front and center, and that good will continued all the way through to the end of the show, when the band followed up their hit "Wagon Wheel" with the Tom Petty classic "American Girl."