Steve Earle’s Got the Blues
Steve Earle began his February 7 show in North Adams, MA, with a handful of new songs for his about-to-be-released album Terraplane, and he’s got a serious case of the blues. The news of his divorce from his seventh wife, singer Allison Moorer, gave these songs a new context. The opener, “Aint Nobody’s Daddy Now,” is a celebration of freedom and release while the following tune, “You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had,” flips the coin with regret and reminiscence.
While Steve’s band, The Dukes, are on Terraplane, he has a number of solo acoustic performances before he tours with the release, much to the delight of the sold-out Mass MOCA’s Hunter Center.
The blues continued, with nods to Mississippi John Hurt’s and Lightning Hopkins’ styles with “Gambler’s Blues,” “King of the Blues,” and from his back catalog, “My Old Friend the Blues.”
Earle’s catalog is vast and the crowd was treated to “Someday” and “Aint No Peace for an Angry Young Man” before the set hit one of it’s many peaks with a trio of tunes full of desperado characters and thoughtful lyrics. He introduced “Prayer to Tom Ames” as one of the few tunes he still sings, that he wrote as a 20 year-old. It’s full of bank robbing, bad choices making, down and out young men who question if there’s any hope for spiritual salvation. This song was juxtaposed with a song he wrote for Joan Baez as a 60 year-old man. It was called “God Is God,” and it answers the young man’s spiritual quest in the positive. Earle claimed that it’s “the best song I ever wrote,” and it was made even more poignant by an abrupt interruption by the staff of the Hunter Center. There was a medical emergency which stopped the performance (a first for Earle) and brought up the house lights. Steve was visibly shaken and resisted the crowd’s nervous calls for songs and on-stage chatter. He restarted the tune with every reference to mortality and higher powers that much more relevent.
The set took a course which could be described as love-gone-wrong tunes, with “Taney Town,” “Daddy’s Lil Darlin’,” and especially “Goodbye.” He inserted a good amount of story-telling between songs, which helped the crowd interpret the tunes. For example, he introduced the next three tunes as being “for the ladies” in the audience. He playfully suggested their necessity in the set (and in the audience) because he didn’t want to play strictly to folks who looked like him: “older, hairier, and uglier.” There was lots of comic relief on aging, which was well-received by this admittedly older crowd. This set was concluded with a hilarious rant/story about Valentines Day, written while without a drivers license and trying to buy flowers for his wife.
Earle then brought out his mandolin for a trio of well-received tunes, concluding with a rousing “Galway Girl.” The Townes Van Zandt influence took center-stage with a touching story of Townes and his horse Amigo appearing to Earle in a daydream while driving through a snowstorm in Colorado mountain passes. He sang a heart-wrenching ballad, “Fort Worth Blues,” in Van Zandt’s memory.
The show had many of these powerful moments, including the last three tunes. He told a moving story about Middle East peace efforts resulting in the song “Jerusalem,” which was written in Post-9/11 USA. Earle eloquently described the hope for peace in the region by comparing himself, saying he was a similarly “hopeless cause.”
The first notes of “Copperhead Road” were greeted with recognition for one of Earle’s biggest hits. The encore — “Christmas in Washington” — was introduced via philosphical and political messages on everything from world hunger to health insurance and homelessness. While the sing-along chorus invoking Woody Guthrie wasn’t sucessful (Earle said, “we sucked”), the musical connection to the activist and social commentarian was not lost on the crowd. Earle’s many songs with messages put him squarely in the Guthrie/Seeger mold. For this night, the crowd believed Mr. Earle to be an eloquent spokesman for our generation, even if he does have the blues.