The Drunk in the Balcony and the Greenwich Village Drum Machine....
Well, last night was the Steve Earle concert at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville.
Four years ago I saw SE right there in Stuart’s, and it was one of their best concerts. Not The Everbodyfields, but... I should have taken set list notes. Forgive me.
For you ultra-serious SE fans, I suggest you just skip this review -- OR go and buy a Chris Knight CD. It’ll do you good. As for me, the best part of the night was the salad at Casa Nueva, an hour before the concert.
Opener: surprise, surprise, it was Allison Moorer, or MRS. Steve Earle. Since 2005 -- one year after I last saw an excellent SE concert. I wonder....
Start from the SE start: I’ve been playing SE songs for years. And years. And years. But I’ve always found him a little spotty compared to my favorite songwriters. For every gem, there are four or five duds.
This is way low of me. Way low. But Mrs. SE stole the lower half of one of Hillary Clinton’s pant-suits. Not a fashion choice you would often see at a SE concert. There, that’s over. I’m not a fashionista, but heck, this was just the beginning of a bunch of bad choices.
Four songs into Mrs. SE’s brassy-voiced, just off-key-enough-to-be-annoying, and ultra-mediocre guitar-playing set, she launched into a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. At that point I headed for the bar/entrance hall down below and got a second coffee – no easy feat for a newly-reformed drunk: it was better in the bar than staying to listen. My immediate thought was that it would take three plays of a double-live Fred Eaglesmith CD to excoriate this from what is left of my brain. Two minutes later, I was followed by my much-much better half, who just rolled her eyes and headed for the Marietta IPA. That’s it for Mrs. SE.
A little t-shirt, overpriced CD and DVD break and then, heeeeeeeeerrrrre’s STEVE!
He’s always a better guitar player than I expect him to be. When he plays with a band, he’s never THE guitar player -- so you forget that he is a better-than-average player -- despite the use of the same three turnarounds for each verse/chorus in every song. He has great timing, rhythm and beat. This is important, as the last two live acts I’ve seen as a paying customer were Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, both of whom, and especially Kimbrough are really GOOD players. Both are also wonderful, concise, well-rounded songwriters who are not living on their laurels. (And who don't make up the majority of their songs while recording their latest efforts.)
The sound was fairly good. Vocals could have been better, but heck, the sound man can’t fix enunciation.
That said, SE’s first five or six tunes were good. Good playing and fairly good vocals. Heck, it’s Steve F’n Earle. Ya know what I mean? Sure ya do. Jericho road, Jerusalem, Someday, Ellis Unit One - more folks need to hear this stuff!
Next: The Drunk in the Balcony. Yep. There’s always a drunk in the balcony. And he’s always a major nuisance. This one was. But he was also something that both the Bush administration and Steve Earle need: a Truth-Teller.
Steve Earle is using a DJ operated drum-machine and loop technology! The last guy I saw using loops was Bruce Cockburn. SE ain’t BC.
The DJ looked like a fey version of John Goodman. He sported a little superior smile on his fat little fey face that smacked of arrogance. He had a “moog” t-shirt that just gave off that new Greenwich Village ultra-hipness that SE is now evidently a part of. He spun his little turntable squeakies. He thumped his finger-activated drum-pads. He had little maracas running in the background, interfering with some spare but nicely timed dobro from SE.
(Note: SE was from Texas. Then Tennessee. Now it’s Greenwich Village. Pardonne-moi, but AMERICANA is Texas and Tennessee -- not Greenwich Village. Sorry, it’s just not. Folk music, yes -- NOT Americana.)
Then came “The Drunk in the Balcony”. Usually I hate these guys. I want to pay bikers to kick his ass. Heck, I wanna join in on the ass-kicking. But in this case HE was the hero -- not SE.
After the first DJ aided massacre, we heard this slurred voice from the balcony: “Throw the drum machine in the dumpster.” (This is obviously a take-off of the lyrics to SE's "Week of Living Dangerously".)
After the second DJ mess: “Throw the drum machine in the dumpster and fade on into the sunset.” (A very poetic Drunk in the Balcony, now.)
After the third DJ abortion: “You ain’t all that! Throw the drum machine into the dumpster.” (By now I think I have a man-crush on this drunk.)
SE brings MRS. SE out for a duet. They CO-WROTE it! It’s turrible. Three-year-olds have throw-aways better than this. The drunk in the balcony is back and I want to buy him another but he’s still stuck on the drum machine.
The COVER of Copperhead Road. If you don’t want to do it right, don’t do it. I KNOW it’s your song. I’ve done it so many times, I don’t care if I ever hear it again, but if you feel like you have to do it, please do it right.
I did like the posing at the end. There's something pretty f'n funny about a guy in a plaid western shirt, baggy jeans, old cowboy boots and stringy hair doing a broadwayesque version of a guitar hero pose, complete with hip thrust and fist in air. I'm fairly certain it was sarcasm on SE's part. Either way, very funny. Maybe it's his way of dealing with the nine-thousandth repeat of Copperhead Road.
And one more last-last thang: if you are such a liberal, that big, black Silver-Eagle better be running on F’n vegetable oil. And remember, Steve Earle is a “union guy”, and thanks to him, there was a bass player and a better-than-average drummer signing up for unemployment tonight, replaced by a fey John Goodman DJ.
My take on the whole thing: God Bless Fred Eaglesmith. And Steve Earle ain’t Steve Earle anymore.