Steve Earle Kicks Off Two-Night Stand With a Blues-Inspired Bang

Concert Review

Last night as he was in the midst of two-hour concert before a capacity crowd at Music Box Supper Club, singer-guitarist Steve Earle made a comment about getting kicked out of a blues band when he was 13. He said his latest album, a straight-up blues offering, was essentially a way of commemorating the dismissal. His revenge is our good fortune as Earle and his backing band the Dukes put on a stellar show that was the first of two nights at the venue — Earle and the Dukes are back at the Music Box tonight.

While Earle is often associated with country and Americana, his music has always had a bluesy swagger to it. And mixing the newer songs from Terraplane with older tunes such as “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road,” a country tune you can actually bang your head to, only meant that the older material sounded a little punchier when played in the context of ZZ Top-inspired blues songs like the rowdy “Go-go Boots are Back.”

Earle started the set on harmonica as he and the Dukes launched into “Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” the opening track from Terraplane, and then segued into “You’re the Best Lover that I Ever Had,” a song that had a bit of a Tex-Mex/Los Lobos vibe to it as Earle stuttered and slurred his way through it. Earle’s voice sounded raspier than ever and he evoked Tom Waits on “Someday” a song that showcased Eleanor Whitmore’s fabulous fiddle playing. After raucous renditions of the aforementioned “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road,” Earle turned to what he called the “chick song portion” of the show. “This prevents my audience from growing exponentially hairier and uglier as time goes on,” he joked. The ensuing ballads “Sparkle and Shine” and “Galway Girl” had a folky feel to them.

Earle cranked the amps back up for “Acquainted with the Wind” and “South Nashville Blues,” foot-stomping rockers that had the audience clapping along. He finished the set off strong with “The Tennessee Kid,” a John Lee Hooker-inspired number that found Earle practically talking his way through the tune as he sounded like a possessed preacher. It gave way to the Hendrix classic “Hey Joe.” The encore started with the tender “Remember Me,” a tune he dedicated to his son and the encore also included a cover of Donovan’s twangy “There is a Mountain.”

It wouldn’t be a Steve Earle concert without some political statement or another. Earle delivered on that account, though his thoughts were mostly personal. He talked about his autistic 5-year-old son and all the trouble he’s had trying to find him the medical care he needs. And he talked about global warming. And he talked about his sobriety. But for the most part, this was a kinder, gentler Earle who poked fun at himself and looked back at his life with a wistfulness. At one point he discussed his divorce and then said it gave him the opportunity to take stock of his life. “I realize I’ve written a fuck of a lot of songs,” he said. “I guess that’s what happens when you don’t die.” He should have said he's written a "fuck of a lot of great songs."
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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