Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2003: Steve Earle in Tucson

Word is that Mr. Earle is at work on a collaboration with T-Bone Burnett for his next album. When he tours behind it, you want to make sure to check that out. And to learn more, go thither and yon.

A few years back, Mr. Earle was going through a kind of a quiet period. He did a wonderful bluegrass album, The Mountain, with the Del McCoury Band, and took some time off to write a play and a book of short stories. After a time he decided it was time to break out the electric guitar and rock out again. His new girlfriend, who'd only known the quiet Steve, asked him why he wanted to do a thing like that. Because, he said, it makes my dick hard.

Well, he must have had a hell of a boner last night. The wife and I made one of our too-infrequent pilgrimages to the church of the electric guitar, and Pastor Steve delivered one hell of a sermon. He promised that he would play "a lot of songs" and he kept that promise, departing at midnight after a good two or three dozen selections from his songbook. It's not that he didn't play any quiet songs; there were a few, and he played every single track off of the new album, loud or not. But by the time he left for the pre-encore break, he had just fired off seven or eight blistering white-hot, uptempo numbers in a row, any one of which was enough to get the crowd on their feet.

Song after brilliant song, his roadies kept handing him an endless supply of acoustic, solid body and hollow body guitars, plus mandolins, banjos, ukeleles, and the occasional harmonica. His young hotshot guitarist spat out blazing leads and the nimble bass player took full advantage of the tall Marshall stacks. Steve had his baby brother on the drums and his oldest son on keyboards and damned if we all didn't feel right at home.

He dropped off little political diatribes every once in a while, predicting that if we thought 2002 was a weird year, we ain't seen nothing yet. He referred to a history book he'd been reading about the period just before the Civil War, and then urged us to remember that no mater what side we end up on, we shouldn't let anybody tell us "that it's unpatriotic or un-American to question fuckin' anything." Loud roar.

Many long, sustained roars brought him back for two sets of encores, culminating with the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" (which he recorded with Ani diFranco for the Steal This Movie soundtrack) and finally, the Youngbloods' "Get Together," "a song I've been doing as long as I've had a guitar, and it's never made more sense to me than today."

He left, vowing to return to Tucson, a city he'd visited but never gigged in. Tucson rarely sees the likes of him, so we hope he'll keep the promise. Maybe we'll all end up in the same internment camp.

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