Concert Review: Justin Townes Earle with Joe Pug, March 1, The Horseshoe, Toronto
I saw Justin Townes Earle nearly a year ago at this same venue. I knew I was in for a great show, and fortunately so did other Torontonians, as there were two to three times as many people at this Monday night gig as compared to the Wednesday gig in April, 2009. And, this show contained different musicians; JTE brought along Josh Hedley on fiddle and Bryn Davies on upright bass as opposed to Cory Younts on mandolin at the ’09 gig.
JTE took the stage wearing rimless glasses, a light blue button-down shirt, a brown coat, and matching brown bow tie (a real bow tie, not the clip-on type most guys I know wear). The trio sounded wonderful, and played many of the songs from 2009’s Midnight at the Movies at a slower pace than the recordings, such as “They Killed John Henry” and “Mama’s Eyes.” The fiddle sounded like a train screeching down the tracks during “Halfway to Jackson,” and the fiddle filled in for the whistling part on “Know Right Now.” JTE also played five new songs, and mentioned that he wanted to start recording them in May or June. I made up names for these songs (see below), but they all had the classic country style that we have come to expect from JTE.
In addition to great music, JTE also puts on quite a stage know. I think he thrives on entertaining an audience with his banter as much as he does with his music. He tells the stories behind his songs, whether he’s talking about his mom’s ‘Hillbilly Intuition,’ “The last thing you need when you get your ass kicked by the cops, is your ass kicked by your mama!” Or women, “I got a knack for writing songs that the ladies don’t appreciate. So does my daddy.” Or bitchy women, “Never fuck with a traveling singer/songwriter cause he’ll air your shit all over the world.”
As per previous shows, JTE acknowledged his country roots by playing covers of some classic songs by the Carter Family, Buck Owens, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. And the catchiest cover of 2009, the Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which JTE dedicated to the late Chris “Spacewolf” Feinstein.
Minus the new songs, the set list was very similar to the April ’09 show. After a year on the road, JTE has matured and perfected his craft. For this show I felt like he was trying less to prove himself, and more to simply entertain.
1. Poor Fool – Midnight at the Movies (2009)
2. The Killed John Henry – Midnight at the Movies
3. Halfway to Jackson – Midnight at the Movies
4. I Don’t Care – Yuma (2007)
5. What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome – The Good Life (2008)
6. Mama’s Eyes – Midnight at the Movies
7. Boy Keep Movin’ (?) – new song
8. What I Mean to You – Midnight at the Movies
9. Someday I’ll be Forgive for This – Midnight at the Movies
10. Nobody’s Waiting On Me (?) – new song
11. I’ll Keep Wondering (?) – new gospel-style song (JTE solo)
12. So Different Blues – Mance Lipscomb cover (JTE solo)
13. My Starter Won’t Start This Morning – Lightnin’ Hopkins cover (JTE solo)
14. Hard Living – The Good Life
15. Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving – The Good Life
16. Lone Pine Hill – The Good Life
17. South Georgia Sugar Babe – The Good Life
18. Working for the MTA (?) – new song
19. Mama I’m Coming Home (?) – new song
20. Midnight at the Movies – Midnight at the Movies
21. Can’t Hardly Wait – Midnight at the Movies, Replacements cover
22. Walk Out – Midnight at the Movies
23. Yuma – Yuma
24. Gold Watch and Chain – Carter Family cover
25. Close Up the Hony Tonks – Buck Owens cover
Joe Pug opened the show with a set of eight songs, mostly from his debut album Messenger. His set was split between Pug solo on acoustic guitar, and Pug with Andrew Harrison on pedal steel and electric guitar. He sounded wonderful, and his songwriting and style reminded me a bit of the late Vic Chestnutt. I purchased Messenger that night, so at the time I wasn’t overly familiar with his music I didn’t catch all of the songs that he performed, but he did do “The Door Was Always Open,” “Speak Plainly Diana,” and “Not So Sure.” I wanted to get Pug to sign a CD for me, but he’s a cute kid, and there were lots of young chicks in line to get their CDs signed/flirt with him, so I took a pass. But next time I hope to chat with him at bit.