Steve Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses, Portland, OR, June 10, 2011
Hello Music Lovers
First, let me say that I haven’t seen Steve live for a few years now–no “Washington Square Serenade” or “Townes” tour for me. Just couldn’t make it. So, I was pretty excited to see him and the band live again–to see if he still had that raucous energy and political angst of the past (he does). Also, this review (my first) won’t be a song-by-song accounting of everything he did–I’ll just present some highlights, if you will. To be honest, I was too busy stomping my feet, shaking my ass, and rocking my head back and forth to remember the complete song sequences. Yeah, it was fun.
The Crystal Ballroom is an interesting venue–big, high ceilings, chandeliers, and a floating, springy floor. Pretty cool, really, although the concert was seated and the sound in this venue can get loud and a bit muddy–particularly vocal-wise. Perhaps it was good that the show was seated because to me, most of the audience were at least as old as Steve. For only their second show on the tour, the band (Will Rigby–drums; Kelly Looney–bass; Allison Moorer–guitars, keys, and vox; Eleanor Whitmore–mando, fiddle, baritone guitars, vox; Chris Masterson–lead guitar and anything with strings, vox) was in fine form–they seemed pretty tight and knew the songs. Of course, Rigby and Looney have been playing with Steve for awhile. It was nice to see the band starting out fresh.
The first set began with the first 4-5 songs off of Steve’s new record–“I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”. Pretty much spot on. I was standing just stage-left, about 10 feet away and everything sounded fine. It was really cool to see Masterson using Swart Amplifiers–I own one and they are badass. These first songs were followed by a cornucopia of other stuff spanning his discography–including “Mystery Train, part II”, “Taneytown”, “My Old Friend The Blues”, and a couple of other tunes off his new disc (I told you I can’t remember everything!). The first set concluded with a trio of songs by Allison–Steve introduced her, left the stage, and she finished it off.
The second set began with perhaps my favorite song of Steve’s to see live–“Copperhead Road”. Oh, for crying out loud. This was like setting the audience on fire–and the hairs on the back of my neck were at attention. Since he had his mando in hand, he followed with “Galway Girl”–another feel-good fave and a great song to hear and see live. The second set, like the first, was filled with many cuts spanning his career–he definitely covered the terrain, including “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied”, “Ben McCoullagh”, and “Hard Core Troubador”. Another highlight was “The Revolution Starts Now”–which I was hoping would be followed by one of my faves–“Home To Houston”–but alas, it was did not. Gee whiz–I can’t even remember how the second set ended–rocking, I know that–was it “The Unrepentant”? I’m sure folks who were there, or in Seattle the night before, will help me out. The other cool thing about the second set was that he let Kelly Looney and the Mastersons (Eleanor and Chris are married) each do a song–both were memorable.
For the first of three encores, Steve opened with “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”–a nice country rendition of the Hank Williams’ classic. I think the first encore was also the first time where we got to hear serious “Earle-speak”–he spoke emphatically about the importance of unions and then broke into “The Mountain”. The second encore opened with more “Earle-speak”–this time on politics and followed by “Christmas In Washington”. The second and third encores included “Hillbilly Highway”, “Guitar Town”, “John Walker’s Blues”, and it all ended with a lifting, lilting “Jerusalem”.
For all you folks waiting to see Steve and the band live, I hope this gives you a flavor for what you’re in store for. I will personally guarantee a good time.