A year ago, almost to the day, I gave a glowing review to a Marty Stuart show at The State Room for Salt Lake magazine. It was, in hindsight, definitely one of the best shows I saw in 2016 and perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life. Tonight, Stuart and his band, His Fabulous Superlatives, again played Salt Lake’s best small venue—and three songs in, I knew once again that Stuart and his band were once again going to claim their rightful space at the top of my Best Shows of the Year list.
I knew so early in this time because the show was nearly identical to the one I had seen a year before, in all the best ways. Now—of course there were were differences. This time the band wore black and pink suits that would make Nudie Cohn proud, not blue. And this time the setlist included material from the band’s new album, Way Out West, instead of a steady stream of classic country and gospel favorites.
But, the fundamentals of this show remained the same.
This band is good. This band is really, really good. From guitarist “Cousin” Kenny to “Professor” Chris Scruggs (yes, there’s a relation) to “Handsome” Harry Stinson to, of course, frontman Marty Stuart (hey, Marty, how come you don’t give yourself a cool nickname like the members of your band have?)—these gentlemen are musician’s musicians, seamlessly moving from surf music in the song “Mojave” to the sweet harmonies and Kenny Vaughn’s remarkable guitar-playing in the Marty Robbins classic “El Paso.” Their strength is in the way they make it look both easy and fun—always smiling.
To put it more simply, they are fabulously superlative. It’s not just a clever name.
Stuart’s hauntingly beautiful solo version of “Orange Blossom Special” on his mandolin— with a story you should hear from the man himself to go with it—stood out again as a highlight of the night, as did the encore version of “Long Black Veil” which, to my dismay, featured the only pedal steel playing of the whole night. Once again, as was the case a year before, each member of the band got his own time to shine at the microphone each featuring songs that seemed to harness the power of the music that has heavily influence the band’s overall sound—shades of Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly reigned supreme—and even a Pete Seeger cover.
And yes, they played tracks from the new album—lots of it. It served up an opportunity for the band to flex its musical muscles on everything from a guitar-driven psychedelic rock narrative about pills that was equal parts Hunter S. Thompson and Alice in Wonderland to the more fitting standard country music song about a big rig driver.
Last year when I saw Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives I felt like I’d witnessed something special that I’d never see again. This year, I felt dejå vu. But you see, I think that was actually the most beautiful part of this show. Because I realize now that I didn’t witness anything special that first night. I just saw the show that these four men put on every night, in every city they go to. And I’ll be damned if that’s not special.
I would watch this show every single night, and like the band itself, I would do it with a smile on my face.