Saturday, March 29, 2014

Steve and Shawn at Berklee

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin were doing a "songwriters" thing at Berklee Performance Center, so of course we went, on a Friday night in late March.  I'm on record as considering Earle one of the best musicians in the world, though I think he's really been running hot and cold since he moved to New York.  He's produced some of the best songs/performances of his career, but he's also wallowed in omphaloskepsis at times and isn't singing as well as he used to.

But we were excited to see those two anyway, and did our normal BPC thing of meeting at Bukowski's (they had cask-conditioned Abbott Ale on tap!).  We had a chance to stop by the Back Bay fire station, pet their dalmation, and honor the heroism of Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, who died recently while fighting a fire and saving the lives of our neighbors.  A woman showed up in a kilt and played a moving rendition of Amazing Grace on bagpipe while we were there.

We had great seats in a sold-out BPC, and Shawn and Steve came on right on time and kicked it off nicely with Wake Up Little Susie.  I was a bit disappointed with the concert, it was as formulaic as a "songwriters" night could be, and Earle continued his propensity to get bored in the middle of his songs and mail it in.  They also could have used a lot more practice and/or better vocal arrangements.  Their voices can be very good together and at times were, but at other times were an odd couple.

BUT, Earle has written some of my favorites songs and one of the great things about the night was that he really covered some of the best of them.  He did no songs where I thought, "Gee, I wish he'd sung this instead."  He got right to it.  And Shawn has written some great songs herself, but admitted that they run the gamut from angry breakup songs to lonely breakup songs and don't stray far from that.  Here's the list:

  • Wake Up Little Susie
  • The Devil's Right Hand (Earle solo; he got bored on this)
  • Another Long One (Colvin solo)
  • Goodbye (Earle solo; one of the highlights of the night, he did this one right)
  • Object Of My Affection (Colvin)
  • Crazy (Colvin)
  • Pancho and Lefty (Earle; mailed this one in)
  • These Four Walls (Colvin; thrilling stuff, though her voice was not as penetrating as I'd hoped)
  • Guitar Town (Earle and Colvin, another plain vanilla performance where their voices didn't produce any magic)
  • Fearless Heart (Earle and Colvin; another highlight, they just nailed this great song, this should be the national anthem of some country!)
  • Diamond In the Rough (Colvin; one of her best songs and very well done)
  • City of Immigrants (Earle; great NYC song, and he got that sly syncopation of inflection that's one of his trademarks, though he let the song drift away from him a bit)
  • Burning It Down (Earle and Colvin; another of his great recent songs, done very very well)
  • Sunny Came Home (Colvin; her biggest hit, done nicely in an understated tone)
  • Galway Girl (Earle with Colvin on guitar; if only Shawn's hair were black and her eyes were blue ... this is a wonderful song!)
  • You're Still Standing There (Earle and Colvin; Steve told us in a tactful way that of course this wouldn't be as good as it was with Lucinda, but Shawn really busted out here and they did a ballsy take on this fantastic duet) 
  • Baby's In Black (Earle and Colvin; this was the first encore, a nice bookend to Little Susie)
  • Copperhead Road (Earle and Colvin; everyone was getting tired at this point)

Shawn stuck to her guitar all night and at times really impressed me with her ability to rock.  Earle played some good guitar but had some trouble with tuning and was best when he switched to bouzouki and then to his mandolin.  His picking the bouzouki on Galway Girl and his frailing the mandolin on Copperhead Road were perhaps the instrumental highlights of the night.

Another criticism I could make was that the songs were all very short.  They hurried through the verses and rarely added a bridge, like they were doing a "greatest hits" thing.  Oh well, enough of the criticisms.  We had a great time, great seats, and we were really glad to see this odd couple of superstar musicians stirring it up a bit.

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