Steve Earle & the Dukes, Colston Hall, Bristol. UK
A feature of Steve Earle shows I have seen at various venues is that before even a note had been struck is the deep loyalty among the audience. This isn’t just a show but a meeting of kindred spirits and once Steve gets going the stage represents little physical divide between band and fans.
Another defining feature of Steve Earle shows over the past few years is the double shift put in by the Mastertons who opened then took up positions as Dukes for the main event. Having been introduced by Steve, husband and wife duo, Chris and Eleanor (Whitmore) played a short set combining material from their new release, Good Luck Charm, which builds on their impressive debut album, Birds Fly South. They are accomplished songwriters and musicians. Their songs range from their Texas roots as so perfectly exemplified in the title song of that first record to the very modern curse of mobile (cell) phones in Cautionary Tale. I look forward to their return as the headline act.
This Bristol date was the first of a UK tour that follows hot on the heels of a comprehensive haul of North America. After this it’s Europe then back to the US. Shades of Dylan’s never ending tour ? The Dukes have an almost stripped down feel now, bassist (upright double and electric) Kelly Looney and Will Rigby on drums, lay down the rhythm for the set’s wide sweep. And wide it was; Terraplane, the latest album is blues. Steve said these weren’t his first blues songs but this is his first blues record. The first three songs came from the new record interspersed with some quick fire commentary from Steve then staying with the blues, we went back home to the classic, My Old Friend the Blues. After that, Guitar Town then Copperhead Road took up the tempo and the set was motoring. It is almost churlish at such a great event to say this but I shall, the sound left a bit to be desired. At six rows from the front more or less in the middle, the balance disappeared during this part. The sound desk’s response was to crank up the volume. While never completely perfect, the engineer did fix it and this was the first night so who am I to carp?
Back to the set where the highlights were many; Galway Girl, with great accordion from crew member, Chris Park, then a fantastic Forty-Four, Go Go Boots Are Back finishing with Hey Joe. Within that was the heartbreaking, Better Off Alone, which perhaps sums up Steve’s current view on matrimony. Down the Road formed the encore bringing to a close the best Steve Earle show I’ve seen for several years. Not that he hasn’t ever done blues, but Terraplane seemed to add a further dimension to all the other influences Steve weaves into his songs. This felt a very complete demonstration of his enormous talent. Steve looked relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself. The band were tremendous, never a wasted note, they both back and in some respects, lead, the great man. Not only that, I left feeling this could only go on getting even better. What a fine prospect and I look forward to the next time.