Friday, August 12, 2011


I haven't seen Steve Earle play with a band for a while (other than when I filmed this brief performance at the SiriusXM studios for Outlaw Country)... his shows over the past few years have been acoustic deals, where he is occasionally accompanied by a DJ or his wife, the incredibly talented Allison Moorer. On this tour, however, he reactivated his long-time backing band The Dukes (bassist Kelly Looney and drummer Will Rigby), but now they are called The Dukes and Duchesses. Allison plays piano, all kinds of keyboards, accordion, guitar, I think she played mandolin and maybe tenor guitar and of course she sings.  Also in the group is both members of The Mastersons, a cool husband-wife duo.  Chris Masterson played guitar, pedal steel guitar and bass and sang, while Eleanor Whitmore plays that tenor guitar, mandolin and violin and sings also.  As for Steve, he played acoustic guitar, a bit of electric, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and bouzouki ("But don't call it that in an airport"). The band was phenomenal.

Adding character to the show was the venue: The Tarrytown Music Hall.  This is a room with a vibe: it is 126 years old. Yes, it opened in 1885.   It has a small capacity - less than 1000 people. It seemed that everyone who worked there was a volunteer, and they all loved the room. Rightfully so. You're never far from the stage, and the sound was great.  Later on in the tour, Steve is playing New York's Town Hall and Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg, so he didn't have to make this stop, way out in the suburbs, but it was cool that he did. It was certainly a different crowd from the ones that I've seen at some of his other shows.  Music Hall "members" get free tickets for all the shows, so a lot of people were at the show probably because it was free for them. I think that's great: Steve Earle shouldn't just be about preaching to the converted, as it were.  But for a small room, there were a few people who didn't seem familiar with him, and especially not with his new album, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (one of my favorites of 2011).

So it may not have helped those people that Steve opened with five new songs: "Waiting For The Sky," "Little Emperor," "Gulf Of Mexico"(after the song, he added "Fuck BP!"), "Molly O" and "Every Part Of Me." I was stoked: I love his album, and like Springsteen and Dylan (who I found myself comparing Steve to throughout the night - not as a disciple, but as a peer) his recent albums hold up to the rest of his stellar career.

Steve's musical performances are always great, but his spoken interludes between songs always add to the experience. He talked about how America *is* its immigrants before "City Of Immigrants" and about the story of the miner who he wrote about twice, in "Harlan Man" and "The Mountain."

Steve definitely has fans who prefer his pre-jail era (his '80s albums) and he took care of them with some of his classics like "My Old Friend The Blues," "Someday" (a favorite of my wife, who is also the photographer for this post), "Guitar Town" and "Hardcore Troubadour" (which is also the name of his weekly radio show on SiriusXM Outlaw Country - yes I work there). I love that stuff, but I'm equally a fan of his Bu$h era protest music - he was saying what needed to be said, when few others had the balls to say it.  So thanks Steve, for playing "Jerusalem" and "The Revolution Starts Now," songs that surely had Springsteen jealous. Thanks for writing those songs.

Steve was generous with his band: he gave Allison a three song set, including the stunning "Easy In The Summertime" and a cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," which floored the room. Kelly Looney switched from guitar to bass to sing one of his songs, and The Mastersons did one of theirs as well.

There were so many highlights for me. But I loved the story he told about "The Devil's Right Hand" (maybe my favorite song by him).  When he wrote it, it wasn't a gun control song, but years later - after his 14 year old son stole his gun and wouldn't tell him where he'd hidden it - he sort of changed his mind.  

I also loved his covers: Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" (which he's done on live albums before, and anyway, when in [or near] Jersey...) and Bob Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry," which I didn't know Steve ever did.  I know Steve was really influenced by both of them. But what I think is so cool is that he's become their peer, I'd daresay that he's on their level. Now if the rest of the country (and world) figured this out...

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I didn't pay for my tickets - but I would have (and I  certainly have paid to see Steve in the past).  And while I was there, I bought two of Steve's live albums.

And on another note, my wife took a lot of great pictures, there will be a Zenfolio album and I'll update this post with a link to the album when it's ready.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insightful review. I thought it was a wonderful show, very different from the other time I saw him solo acoustic opening for Hot Tuna. I'm heading to see him rightnow in Boston opening for Tedeschi Trucks. Wonder what this setlist will look like?

B. Ives said...

thanks for reading and posting! Steve opening for Tedeschi/Trucks should be interesting!