Steve Earle was in town last night for an early (solo) date on what looks like an extensive European tour. He was supported by a name that is new to me – Rhett Miller, another (younger) Texas-born, New York-based singer songwriter. Whilst comparisons may be invidious, they are also probably inevitable under the circumstances. What becomes immediately apparent from Rhett Miller’s energetic (solo) set is that the guy has a wry sense of humour. I won’t pretend to have been able to pick up much of the lyrical content, but there was one song that seemed to be about bedsprings and – specifically – how they might appear from underneath if your wife/lover thinks that you are on your way to Phoenix and is ‘entertaining’ someone else whilst you are hiding under the bed ‘with your pride and a cold steel 45’ or words to that effect. Miller played a short, entertaining set, but I felt throughout that here was a guy who was not really a part of the whole folk troubadour/singer-songwriter thing but a rock & roll songwriter operating without a band. It will be interesting to see how his career develops.
Steve Earle looked like a new age country preacher when I last saw him; denims, a healthy outdoor tan- but now he seems to have retreated into a weird hippie look remeniscent of Allen Ginsberg, though I think this might have something to do with forthcoming film & TV appearances.
Anyway, I have to be honest and say that it seemed like he was ‘phoning it in’ a bit for the opening half-hour of his set. Then again, perhaps I was just reacting to the fact that his ‘between-song patter’ was almost word for word the same as the KCRW session I reviewed here recently (26 October). Now I’d like to think that I’m not totally naive about the rock & roll business, having spent several years observing it from the inside, during which time I can recall seeing multiple Bruce Springsteen gigs at which he would perform ‘Independence Day’ with the same elongated spoken intro night after night. Even so, I had assumed that once the song was over, the performer would relax and respond to the audience between songs in an unscripted fashion. Not so, at least not for the opening section of this gig, which was largely concerned with extracts from Steve’s recent album of Townes van Zandt covers (‘Townes’). Eventually, Steve seemed to warm to his task and to the audience, but it took a while. Life on the road, eh? Anyway, we got a good selection of TvZ material from ‘Lungs’ through ‘Brand New Companion’ and ‘Pancho & Lefty’ to ‘To live is to fly’
Steve then launched into his own material from across the years – so we got ‘Taneytown’, ‘Copperhead Road’, ‘The Galway Girl‘ and my favourite ‘Fort Worth Blues’. To be honest, this part of the show was far more relaxed, so it does make you wonder whether Steve is getting a little bit weary of the whole ‘Townes’ project, having been promoting the album since the Spring. Who knows? Anyway, the last half an hour or so was rousing stuff and he seemed far more spontaneous and at ease, so everyone left with a good feeling about the gig.
Finally, when people try and tell you that rock’n’roll is all about glitz and glamour, don’t believe a word of it. Steve Earle was talking between songs about his tour schedule (as musicians will) and rather wearily informed us his next gig was in Kings Lynn……now that’s really far out…..