Old Crow Medicine Show is an acoustic Americana band. Acoustic and amped.
The Nashville band’s interpretation of Bob Dylan music – starting with his classic album “Blonde on Blonde” in its entirety and ending with “Like a Rolling Stone” – was more electrifying live on Saturday at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul than Dylan probably has been in concert since his 1974 tour with the Band.
Yes, the instruments were acoustic – guitar, upright bass, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, pedal steel guitar, dobro, accordion, piano and drums (the organ was electric). But the performers had the energy and enthusiasm of middle-aged punk rockers.
Hammy and hyper frontman Ketch Secor, 39, was so fired up that at times he seemed overanxious and too eager to please. He name checked St. Paul about 100 times and gave shout-outs to Dinkytown more than anyone in the history of modern music. He was so thrilled to be performing Dylan music in Dylan’s home state that he sometimes couldn’t contain his excitement.
And, of course, this wasn’t the first time Old Crow has played in the Twin Cities. They’ve performed several times on “A Prairie Home Companion” and in various local venues. In fact, multi-instrumentalist Critter Fuqua gave a shout-out to nearby Mickey’s Diner.
When he handled lead vocals, Fuqua did a pretty good Dylan impression. Secor had the Dylanesque phrasing but his voice was smoother, more forceful and often more urgent than Dylan’s.
Both Secor and Fuqua, who cofounded the band 19 years ago, played several different instruments. Same was true for all seven members of Old Crow. The musicianship may have been the most impressive aspect of the two-hour, two-set performance. That and Secor’s ability to remember so many Dylan lyrics without a cheat sheet.
Some songs hewed close to the original arrangements such as “Like a Rolling Stone,” during which Secor’s harmonica was so loud that concertgoers wearing earplugs even covered their ears.
Some tunes were recast such as “4th Time Around” as a waltz and the bluesy rocker “Obviously 5 Believers” as a smokin’ hot bluegrass breakdown.
Secor told the story of how OCMS came to collaborate with Dylan on writing a song. The bard had written “Rock Me, Mama” for 1973’s soundtrack to “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” Secor added more lyrics more than two decades later and called the song “Wagon Wheel.” It became a signature for Old Crow and a country hit for Darius Rucker.
One Old Crow members met Dylan after "Wagon Wheel" was released and the great one told Mr. OCMS: “You guys are killin’ it.”
Secor told the St. Paul crowd that said he’s thinking of having “You guys are killin’ it” tattooed across his chest.
Secor and crew did manage to rein it in at times. OCMS explored its old-time roots when five players huddled around one microphone (one other guy tap danced for percussion) for “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
“That was a Dinkytown hootenanny 50 years later,” Secor declared at song’s end.
Let’s see, Dylan left Dinkytown in 1960 and he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962. Ah, let’s not quibble. Old Crow was a hoot. Period.