Billy Joe Shaver – Cactus Cafe (Austin, TX)
He may have been through some rough times in the recent past, but Billy Joe Shaver soldiers on.
Musically, his biggest loss was the New Year’s Eve 2000 death of his guitar-player son Eddie, which resulted in the band they fronted together coming to a premature end. This performance, then, presented a different side of the man. Yes, he sang most of his best-known songs, but the electric fire of Shaver, the band, has transposed into an acoustic sound. It is one that features the renowned songwriter as a troubadour, telling stories about his life between songs, relating the events that led to their creation and generally just being the down-home, humble and God-loving man that he is.
For more than two hours, Shaver, augmented by Jerry Hollingsworth on slide and acoustic guitar and Bob Brown on fiddle, guitar and mandolin, held the crowd in the palm of his hand. “It’s great to be alive,” he proclaimed at the beginning of the night, and then proved it with a display of simple heart, humor and determination that was stirring and entertaining. Songs such as “Georgia On A Fast Train”, “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal”, “Tramp On Your Street” and “Honky Tonk Heroes” were given intriguing perspective, in their new, stripped-bare readings. Crowd suggestions for oldies such as “Ragged Old Truck” and “Amtrak (Ain’t Comin’ Back)” were enthusiastically accepted and affectionately, effectively done.
In what is now become something of a trademark, he performed a couple of tunes a cappella, or “acapulco”, as he called it. Shaver’s ragged voice unaccompanied by instrumentation gave the lyrics to “Women Are The Wonder Of The World” extra emphasis.
Toward the end of the show, Shaver began to slide into the oddly funky dance he had taken to performing with his electric band when Eddie would go into a solo. With a big satisfied smile on his face and the crowd urging him on, he rolled into “Live Forever”, a tune that has gained enhanced meaning since it was written, not only for the grizzled Texan but for all of us as well.
There was no encore and none was called for. He had given all he had, and the audience agreed that was more than enough.