by Julian Spivey
Chris Stapleton brought his All American Road Show tour featuring Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and Brent Cobb to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark. on Thursday, Nov. 16 and absolutely blew the roof off the venue.
Brent Cobb, a young up-and-comer singer-songwriter who’s the cousin of famed record producer Dave Cobb (who’s produced Stapleton), opened the show with a fantastic short set that really seemed to get the crowd, most of whom likely didn’t know his name or face beforehand, into his music with great performances of “Diggin’ Holes” and “Country Bound,” from his impressive debut Shine on Rainy Day released last year. It was when Cobb performed his new single “Ain’t a Road Too Long” that the crowd really seemed to get into the music, because the chorus sounded so damn good live. Unfortunately, the almost spoken word verses were hard to hear in an arena. A big highlight of Cobb’s set was when he asked the crowd if they wanted “to hear something ‘hillbilly’ or something ‘swamp’.” The crowd chose hillbilly and got a fantastic cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” Looking at some of Cobb’s previous sets it seems the crowds who want swamp music get Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Swamp Music.”
I had seen Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives before at the Bridge Bash in tiny Cotter, Ark., which was a fantastic venue for this group. They sounded just the same in the much larger venue of Verizon Arena, but unfortunately the crowd didn’t seem to give the group the respect they truly deserved. I understand many were there to see the headliner Stapleton, but why not learn to like something new and there’s a reason why Stuart is on Stapleton’s tour – like-minded music.
Stuart and the Superlatives, one of the most talented bands in any form of music, performed some old and new songs during their 45 minute to hour long set including “Hillbilly Rock” and ‘This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)” from the early ‘90s. Being in Arkansas Stuart also performed a song made famous by one of his mentors, Arkansas legend Johnny Cash, who’s band he performed in in the ‘80s. The crowd erupted with applause when he launched into “Ring of Fire.”
The Fabulous Superlatives aren’t just great musicians, but also take turns at the mic throughout the evening with guitarist Kenny Vaughn performing “Country Music Got a Hold On Me,” bassist Chris Scruggs sang “Never Gonna Do It Again” and drummer Harry Stinson performed the Woody Guthrie classic “Pretty Boy Floyd,” my personal favorite of the threesome’s performances.
I had hoped going into the show that Stuart would perform a bunch of stuff from his great new album Way Out West, released earlier this year. I didn’t really get my wish, but the group did perform the excellent instrumental “Mojave” from the album and ended his set with “Time Don’t Wait,” one of the highlights of the album.
Fresh off winning his third consecutive CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year just over a week before Chris Stapleton showed off his award-winning voice that’s like no other currently in the “country” genre (he’s truly an Americana singer because his music has tinges of blues-rock) over his two-hour set of songs from his first two albums, as well as his third one – From A Room: Vol. 2 – coming out on Dec. 1.
Stapleton opened his show with three great rockers in “Might As Well Get Stoned,” “Nobody to Blame” and “Second One to Know,” which is one of the highlights off his recent CMA Album of the Year winner From A Room: Vol. 1.
The country and blues rockers would continue throughout the night with stellar performances of “Parachute” and “Outlaw State of Mind,” from his debut album Traveller, as well as a terrific cover of Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” which he brought Stuart back out to join him on. I wouldn’t mind having a copy of this live version.
It’s the slower ballads that allows Stapleton to really show off his powerful vocals and damn are these songs devastating. Performances of “I Was Wrong” and “Fire Away” were easily among the best of the night. The entire end of his set was flawless going from songs like “Death Row” and “Traveller” to “Tennessee Whiskey” and his set ender “Broken Halos” putting the entire crowd in a blissful mood.
I truly feel sorry for concertgoers who leave venues early just to beat the traffic because they always seem to miss encores that often are the best performances of the entire night. Stapleton’s encore is one that anybody who left on Thursday night should be kicking themselves over today. Stapleton performed “Either Way,” which is probably the best track off From A Room: Vol. 1, and “Sometimes I Cry,” which might be his best vocal on Traveller. It was jaw-dropping seeing Stapleton do these two songs as his encore, but by the time “Sometimes I Cry” was half over the arena was about half empty. I’m glad those people got home 10 minutes sooner …
Every award Stapleton has earned over the last few years has been greatly earned. I’ve had the honor of seeing many great performers and vocalists in concert and he’s among the very best. His vocals are stupidly good and he’s also a very underrated guitar player. If you ever get the chance to see him on the road you’d better take it.