A boisterous hoedown
The big noise in Boston Wednesday night may have been coming from the confines of Fenway Park where Sir Paul McCartney was holding court, but across the street at the House of Blues, the musical friends who comprise the “Big Surprise Tour’’ were making some noise of their own.
They served notice that this was going to be no ordinary, self-contained “headliner and supporting acts’’ performance right from the get-go, when everyone involved - Old Crow Medicine Show (the putative top-billed act), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the Felice Brothers, and Justin Townes Earle - assembled to open the show with a booming version of the Felice Brothers song that has given the tour its name.
What followed was a gigantic collaboration loosely organized into individual sets, all of the performers swapping in and out, lending vocal and instrumental colors, covering one another’s songs, and in general appearing to have a raucous good time along with a delirious capacity crowd.
Earle began with a trio of songs that, with the assistance of the straight steel of Old Crow’s Gill Landry, were eerie in their evocation of the great Hank Williams. He ended with a gospel number on which the Felice Brothers joined him to provide chorus and claps.
Then the Brothers, calling on spirits from the Band to Bruce Springsteen to the Pogues (and, later, in the evening’s closing stretch, even a hint of Pink Floyd), brought some rootsy, unkempt, careening rock that reached a fever pitch with the as-yet unrecorded “White Limousine.’’
Welch and Rawlings brought a surprise of their own: playing as the David Rawlings Machine, he’s stepping forward vocally for the first time. Along with their precise, substantial songs and notable covers, and Rawlings’s always-phenomenal picking, the results were as mesmerizing as usual. Midway through their performance, there was another big surprise: Benmont Tench, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame, walked onstage and lent his talents for the rest of the evening. When he added his best Al Kooper-esque rolling organ licks to the pair’s extended version of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately,’’ it was the most incendiary moment of the night.
Old Crow followed with a mix of its new-old-time ballads (a beautiful “Caroline’’) and stompers (“Alabama High-Test’’), before being joined again by their compadres to roar through their hit “Wagon Wheel.’’ And after 3 1/2 hours, with an encore that featured AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock and Roll’’), this glorious, sprawling, ramshackle affair staggered to a close.