Steve Earle Red Deer Memorial Centre June 15, 2012

Just got home after enjoying 95 or a hundred minutes of solo and acoustic Steve Earle. Now, I’m more than a little biased: this side of Bruce Springsteen, Doc Watson, John Wort Hannam, and Guy Clark, there aren’t many singers I would rather spend a night with.

Playing an intimate theatre, Earle delivered. At turns acerbic and hilarious, Earle shared stories about sons John Henry and Justin Townes and his political views. As always, some of the one-liners were familiar (“This one is for what’s her name, wherever she is…”) and others were fresher (“Why are there seagulls in Edmonton?”) and brought back one of my favourite Earle encounters:

Back about 1998 or 1999, I was volunteering at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, and was working security at the side stage that Steve Forbert was playing. Earle wandered in, listened to Forbert, and after a bit asked me “What are those birds up there?” Scanning the sky and thinking I was missing something, I answered, “You mean, the seagulls?” He responded words to the effect of, “What are seagulls doing here?”

Back to tonight…

He might not have been in the best of voice- perhaps fighting a cold as he seemed a bit phlegmy at times- but turned in a more than solid set. Starting with “Waitin’ on the Sky,” “The Gulf of Mexico,” and (if memory serves) “City of Immigrants,” Earle didn’t hesitate to mix in more recent material- less familiar to some were the five songs from I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive– with the expected offerings: “Goodbye,” “Now She’s Gone,” “My Old Friend the Blues,” (to utilize a cliché, maybe the best song Hank Williams never wrote) and “Someday.”

The entire hall seemed to sing along with “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” while only a couple drunks attempted to serenade us during “Billy Austin.” A very good cross-section of material was on the set list, with almost every album being represented. Considering the breadth and quality of the Earle catalogue, I was struck that while I have seen Earle in a variety of settings- theatre and festivals, solo, with the Dukes, and the Bluegrass Dukes- this was likely my favourite show: just Steve, his songs, stories and wit along with a guitar, mandolin, and bouzouki.

Earle heads to the studio next week and he offered up one new song, a well-received number about burning down the Wal-Mart. An easy target, of course, and considering most of us have visited the local Wal-Mart recently, maybe a bit hypocritical on our part, too.

On the negative side, there were times when Earle seemed to lose track of his mic and his voice dipped and then dived according to its placement. While I’m hardly one to challenge anyone’s sense of fashion, it wouldn’t have hurt if the fellow dressed like he was actually going to work, and not out to the yard to work on the old Merc.

Of particular surprise were renditions of “Tom Ames’ Prayer,” “Taneytown,” and “South Nashville Blues.” He gave it to W. (“Little Emperor”), told an extended Justin Townes story that I hadn’t heard before to introduce “Devil’s Right Hand,” and whipped through “The Galway Girl” and “Copperhead Road” before closing down with “Guitar Town.” His encore choice of “Summer Wages” was a very welcome touch, given Alberta’s affinity for Ian Tyson.

Glad that I got to experience this show before leaving town.

2 thoughts on “Steve Earle Red Deer Memorial Centre June 15, 2012

  1. On one hand, I’m glad to see a lawyer’s income put to shame as ridiculously as theirs eclipse most of ours – on the other – for one man to make something like 40,000 dollars an hour strumming a guitar, and singing songs only he knows (’cause he wrote ’em) I find a little hard to swallow. The Earl of Steve’s refusal to logically play chords that follow the melody can be taken as either musical ignorance or artful genius. Either way it is wrong and hurts the ears – much like Loury’s approach to mixing sound – how hard could it be??? One voice; one instrument – and yet it sounded dynamically challenged and out of control with a dry-in-your-face-unprocessed-uncompressed approach lacking both the necessary eq and effects to enhance and beautify the ugly as is world standard. Vocals went from inaudible to painfully overbearing in the same sentence; the blame for this assault lay solely with Loury. However, let it be noted, all Red Deer sound techs I have heard so far seem to subscribe to an eyes and ears closed policy. To which I have to ask – WHY? – – – I do, however, love the fact a musically uneducated hillbilly who lucked into a couple of marketable songs and chance recording contracts that a lot of incredible talent gets passed over for (’cause that’s how the industry works – one moron deciding what millions will or will not hear) will have lawyers everywhere anguishing over the fact there is no way to equal Steve’s income for the night – less than 2 hours (even with triple dipping – (as lawyers do) – flat fee, plus a percentage, plus a charge at full legal rate for everything the secretary actually does at one tenth the wage. I’ve played the circuit as a professional musician (means you play your butt off 9 P.M. to 2 A.M. for a hundred bucks a week). As a lounge act in any town I’ve ever been, someone like Steve would have lasted one night. And if the agent wished to keep the contract with the club, they would have a replacement their the next evening and someone like Steve would have been punted from the agency. To his credit, It was apparent the way Earl’s voice came alive and the performance soared to realistic heights that the man was put on this planet for no other reason than to deliver ‘Copper-Head Road’ to us as no one else on the planet could. I’m not even a fan of the song, but to hear the man himself – live in the room – serve it up as no else in the world can (in spite of his vocal limitations) with most of my heart my hands applauded. I managed to stay awake for the rest of the evening – but barely. I loved the fact there were not only CD’s but Vinyl – actual records for sale. The prices were stupid, of course. I will pay 25 dollars for a rare vinyl, but not for a new nothing – and 20 bucks for a CD? Why not a hundred or even three? Think of the money you could make – of course no one would buy ’em. GREED. Because of that, you got none of my money. You closed with ‘see you next time’ – for my part – ‘don’t think so’ Other people love you, so keep on keepin’ on. As with everybody on the planet I only wish steve the best as do we all deserve. Be the best you you can be and the world will be that much better for it. I should apologize for being so critical, but I see no reason to. Truth is truth – why lie about it?

  2. Not sure I follow the course of your argument, but you did mention something I had meant to criticize- there were times last night when Steve seemed to lose track of his mic and his voice dipped and then dived according to its placement. I didn’t see what the rather lame looking t-shirts were going for, but $20 for a CD and $25 for vinyl is pretty standard.

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