Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Steve and the Dukes Up North

Steve Earle is one of my favorite musicians ... and I don't mean "favorite" like it's a temporary thing, I mean lifelong.  I've been a dedicated fan of his since I first heard Guitar Town in the deep, dark, early 80s; back when he and Dwight Yoakam (see next week) and Randy Travis turned the country music world on its ear.  He's drifted far, far away from Yoakam and to a greater extent Travis since then (or have they been the ones doing the drifting?), but my conviction that he's one of the best songwriters and heartfelt performers ever has only gotten stronger with each eclectic, radical, masterful record he's put out.  I could go on; this is the good stuff.

Steve doesn't play often in Massachusetts but this summer he's touring all over with his wife Allison Moorer and the latest incarnation of the Dukes (his long-time accompanying band), which has picked up the suffix "and Duchesses."  His Boston date is going to be not as the headliner, he's opening for Tedeschi-Trucks (see Gathering of Vibes, no dispute as to how good they are) at a venue we went to once and dislike, so that's a non-starter for us.  I looked at where else he was playing, saw that he was going to be at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH and realized that that's just under an hour away ... basically the same distance as the Bull Run or the Me and Thee Coffeehouse.  Good tickets were more than available, and I snagged three in the 8th row center.

Drove down the highway from a long weekend in Maine on Sunday and then took off cross-country for Concord just South of Portland.  Toured the state government buildings and had a great dinner in the shade at Tandy's Tavern on Main Street as the hot day cooled down, and then the three of us settled into our seats at the clean, small, psuedo-Egyptian theater.

Here are a few of the songs he played in two 75 minute sets (in rough order, bad memory disclaimer), with two encores:

1st Set
Waitin' On the Sky
Little Emperor
The Gulf of Mexico
City of Immigrants
The Galway Girl
Days Aren't Long Enough

2nd Set
Copperhead Road
The Mountain
Feel Alright
God Is God
The Revolution Starts Now
Hard-Core Troubador
This City (the one from Treme)

1st Encore
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
Hillbilly Highway
Guitar Town

2nd Encore
It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry
Fearless Heart

And those are just the songs I remember!  He played them all from throughout his career and to our delight got louder, fuzzier, more aggressive, and more soulful as the night went along.  Besides these songs he had Allison take the mike for three songs to end the first set, he had his long-time bass player Kelley Looney take the mike for a rousing country-rocker (long time drummer Will Rigby was not to be ignored himself), and had guitarist Chris Masterson (who also played the pedal steel and on one song played pedal steel and lap steel simultaneously) and then fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Whitmore ("she plays anything tuned in fifths") take a couple too ... these two have their own record as "The Mastersons" and I'm sure it rocks.

The crowd was a fun mixture of Earle-rock fanatics who were hard-pressed to identify the classic Hank encore or the song in the second encore that he introduced with "Bob wrote this" (they did a great job of making it into a country-tinged train song), people from the North Country looking for any kind of cultural thing and being taken aback by Earle's statements about immigration, New Orleans, religion, revolution, and so forth (there were tables for Amnesty International and nodeathpenalty.org in the lobby), people looking for a nice summer evening concert from an old folkie, and the majority of us who were hooting and hollering with every note.  My loudest "yahoo!"was for "I'm gonna find what's over that rainbow; I'm gonna get out of here some day" ... one of those pure country phrasings of a timeless urging of the human psyche IMO.

The wimps in the crowd screwed after (or before) the first encore, but those of us who stayed noticed that the house lights weren't coming on and screamed for more.  But honestly, we thought, didn't closing with the huge hits (Hillbilly Highway/Guitar Town) mean the country show was over?  They soon came out *again* and proved us wrong with the delightful Dylan cover mentioned above and the loud guitar sound of Fearless Heart degenerating into feedback while they all took off one by one.  Steve was last and waved us a nice good night.

Back in the car and on the road by about 11:40 (we had snagged a parking place right outside, not hard in Concord on Sunday), and a quick drive back down 93 to home.

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