The standard practice of many live performances, especially the largely promotional sets presented at the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, usually dictates that featured artists devote the limited time they are given onstage to new music. Then, if the setting permits any kind of an encore, a familiar hit can be offered as an audience thank you for being an attentive test subject.
The veteran psychedelic neo-country troupe New Riders of the Purple Sage reversed that philosophy completely for the WoodSongs taping earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre. The band has two semi-new recordings to push, but devoted its entire four song allotment during the program to its most established fare – three tunes from its 1971 self-titled debut album (made when the band was essentially an offshoot of the Grateful Dead) and the Peter Rowan penned Panama Red, first cut by NRPS in 1973. Its lone new entry, curiously enough, was served as an encore.
Today’s NRPS sports two key members – longtime guitarist David Nelson and pedal steel ace Buddy Cage, who took over duties from a moonlighting Jerry Garcia in 1972. Not surprisingly, the thrust of the debut album trilogy – You Don’t Know Me, Whatcha Gonna Do and the playful drug smuggling chestnut Henry – revolved around both players.
Cage’s soloing set the tone of the performance, affirming the kind of hippie/honky tonk hybrid that still defines NRPS. But Nelson, a quietly assertive instrumentalist with a schooled sound owing equally to twang and folk-rock tradition, drove much of the set, especially the brief jam that ignited the title tune from the band’s 2009 album Where I Come From (which he co-wrote with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter) that closed out the evening.
The surprise of the program, though, was the co-billed Minnesota guitarist Charlie Parr. Sporting a roots driven sound that incorporated folk blues, country blues, a touch of rag and more, Parr offered an eclectic sampler of vigorous tunes on 12 string and National steel guitars.
Using predominantly a two-finger picking style, Parr’s playing sounded rustic but never antique or affected. In fact, tunes like True Friends and especially Over the Red Cedar, both of which employed foot stomps for a rhythm section, flew by with an ease, authority and swiftness that was refreshingly pure.