Went out to a Cambridge Sunday night and saw the phenomenal Justin Townes Earle at The Sinclair. Several things bothered me about the venue and the restaurant attached to it, but it shouldn't surprise me when a snooty Cambridge rock club doesn't care much about its clientele or has a snooty name with a capitalized article.
Anyway, we were there when the doors opened and got spots right in front of the stage. Arc Iris opened and played some very adventurous songs on dual pianos with dual glitter ... an entertaining way to start a musical evening. Then Justin Townes Earle came on with accompanist Paul Niehaus on pedal steel and electric guitar and blew the place down.
They opened with Who Killed John Henry and did a bunch of other songs, including Close Up the Honky Tonks as the first encore (the only cover I believe). But the song list doesn't matter. What matters was that Justin Townes Earle has written, sings, and plays some of the most beautiful (but funky) songs ever. His songs are centered on every-day observations and structured very traditionally. He doesn't do anything flashy, doesn't change guitars, doesn't interact comfortably with the audience (or himself, one suspects), doesn't jam with his accompanist (being JT Earle's accompanist must be a lousy job, Earle lost Niehaus a few times and then cackled at him), and ends songs when he's done. But he shines with the directness, simplicity, and poetry of the finest American musicians.
Justin's a friendly guy, he was not gruff with the audience and seemed to be enjoying himself and his reception. He reported the World Series score to us after it was whispered to him by Niehaus at a break (4-2 Red Sox in the 8th), kidded people when they shouted out requests, and then responded to one by playing his excellent Slipping and Sliding. Who am I kidding ... *all* of his songs are top echelon.
Here's Earle and Niehaus (looking a bit stoned) doing one of Justin's folk anthems:
Here's one of his songs about dealing with himself: