House of Blues
February 01, 2005
During the opening set by Allison Moorer, Steve Earle stood out of the light onstage with a mandolin strapped to his chest. He was fooling with his cuffs. He seemed distracted, not in the moment. Just waiting for his cue to play.
I'd learn throughout his two and-a-half hour concert at The House of Blues Tuesday night that Earle wasn't a very effusive man onstage. He warmed up to his music and got more animated as the night went on, but throughout his heaviness radiated outward.
It said, "I'm not gonna jump around like a monkey for you. I'm gonna rock hard in my own subtle way, and I hope you can catch onto it. The intensity with which I strum my strings does not equal my passion. Listen to the lyrics."
I'm not surprised Earle was a burdened dude. He's been through at least six marriages and years of drug addiction, which led to jail time. Earle recovered and released three albums that signified his resurrected relevance: 2000's "Transcendental Blues," 2002's "Jerusalem," and 2004's "The Revolution Starts...Now."
Earle played a good mix of his eighteen year catalog, and he started his set with the shorter version of his latest album's title track. Earle didn't look like he was about to start any revolution, though. He lazily sang the chorus lyrics and looked as disinterested as he seemed during the afformentioned Moorer song. This apathy was fake, though. It was a part of the concert's dramatic arc, which was meant to resemble a person's journey from apathetic countryman(or woman) to activist. Earle closed the arc when he passionately sang the longer version of "The Revolution Starts...Now" to end the set.
Earle rocked. He showed his Country influence through his slightly twangy voice and his acoustic, slow and earnest tales of woe. But, his attitude and his lead guitarist's bombastic solos screamed Rock. In his music I heard pieces of Tom Petty and The Drive-By Truckers, rock artists that have obvious Country allegiances.
Earle showed many different moods. The defiant "F The CC" generated a crowd chant, and the pacifist "Rich Man's War" was enjoyably faster in concert than on the new album. "Copperhead Road" also got a darker, more rockin' treatment. "Ashes to Ashes" was a steady, smoke-filled apocalyptic sermon about man's undoing through his search for power.
Throughout his life as a musician Earle didn't seem to lust for power. Since Earle never conformed to Country or Rock standards, he didn't break through on either side and remained a cult figure. He grew up in San Antonio, and by the age of 13, he was winning talent contests for his guitar playing. At 18, he met Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker, who became his mentor. Earle's career began with 1988's "Guitar Town," but it didn't garner that level of attention again until Earle wrote a sympathetic song about American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh for "Jerusalem." The controversy over Earle's refusal to condemn Lindh gave him ammunition on talk shows and other venues to air his leftist political views.
Earle added some needed humor to the set Monday night with "Condi, Condi," a Caribbean jig about falling in love with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. After the song, Earle said, "I love that bitch."
Earle started the first encore with "Guitar Town," which got him compared to Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. Moorer came back out and sang a beautiful song with her arm around Earle. They had some chemistry, yeah. I've never wanted to be Steve Earle more in my life. When Moorer sang her back-up vocal, the bass line followed her vocal melody note for note. It was wonderful and solid.
Later in the set, Earle's younger brother, who banged on a trashcan suspended above the stage during an earlier, got behind a second drum kit and filled out epic rockers. An example was The Chamber Brothers' "Time Has Come Today," a song that filled the room with an easy rebellious spirit. Easy because Earle shared his political views off and on while encouraging the crowd to stop the Iraq war.
Since Earle's reputation as a Populist/Democrat had preceded him, the room was full of supporters and people who were easily assuaged to agree with Earle. Before Earle launched into his best and most political song of the night, "Christmas in Washington," he said rhetorically, "I wonder what Woody Guthrie would think of what's going on." This led perfectly into the song, which prompted the crowd to sing-along: "Come back Woody Guthrie/Come back to us now/Tear your eyes from paradise/And rise again somehow." Earle looked like he got a real kick out of the crowd's participation. It might have been a line, but Earle said, "I'm gonna tell everybody people in New Orleans sing like revolutionaries."