Steve Earle – Vic Theater (Chicago, IL)
A performer receiving a standing ovation is something that happens all the time. But how many performers get a standing ovation for simply walking out onstage? That was the reception Steve Earle received from more than 1,200 wildly enthusiastic fans at the Vic Theater in Chicago. It was the first of many standing Os he would receive that night.
“It’s no accident I picked Chicago for the first stop on this tour,” he told the crowd at one point. “Nine years ago on a stage here I told you that y’all made my dreams come true. And they’re coming true tonight.” Earle and friends (Norman Blake, Peter Rowan and Roy Huskey) kicked off the show with a rousing “Mystery Train Part II” from his new Train a Comin’ CD. Throughout a first set consisting mainly of songs from the new album, Earle remarked how amazed he was to be playing with the talents assembled on that stage. “If any of y’all aren’t famliar with the work of these fellas, you need to go to a record store tomorrow and do some homework,” he advised at one point.
A highlight of the first set was a very emotional “Goodbye”. Although his sentiments were probably different when he wrote the song, on this night, with all the shouts of “welcome back” and “we love you, man”, it seemed to speak to reestablishing his connection with his fans. A solo set by Earle started off with some songs from his upcoming album. The new songs were well received, but a concert highlight followed when he led a a singalong of audience favorites, beginning with “The Devil’s Right Hand” and followed by “Someday”. Earle sang the first line about his black ’67 Chevy, then stepped back from the mike with a grin and let the audience sing, “Someday I’ll put her on the interstate and never look back.” The audience also provided the backing vocal refrain and chorus on “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” and sang along softly with a very emotional “Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”, which Earle introduced by talking about how grateful he was to be reunited with his children after his “vacation in the ghetto”.
When the band rejoined him, they included a woman (whose name I didn’t catch) on vocals. They started off with an old folk song, “When Will We Be Wed Molly”, followed by “I’m Nothin’ Without You” and “Rivers of Babylon” from Train. Norman Blake did a solo turn on “Northern Winds” as Earle exhorted the crowd to put a lid on it for a while. The fans came back with a vengence as the band went right into “Ben McCulloch”. Earle seemed taken aback as they sang along with a relatively new song he’s probably never performed for an audience. He mixed up a couple of verses and forgot a line. Although he apologized at the end of the song, it wasn’t necessary; by then it was obvious that on this night, with this audience, Steve Earle could do no wrong.
At the end of the set and after each of the three encores, Earle shook hands with everybody he could reach and turned the spotlights on the crowd so he could see the faces. His third encore began with another new song that Earle called “painful but necessary”. “Cocaine Don’t Ease My Pain” was a very chilling recitation of Earle’s battles with drugs and alcohol. Leaving on an up note, Earle called out the whole band and led the audience in a singalong of “Goodnight Irene”. With a parting comment — “We’re taking this show on the road and kicking ass! We’ll be back!” — he was gone.
My wife had the best capsule review of the show as we walked back to the car. “I don’t remember having that good a time at any concert we’ve ever been to.” A sentiment that I think was felt by a lot of folks that night — on both sides of the stage.