Aftermath: Justin Townes Earle at McGonigel's Mucky Duck
Justin Townes Earle at Tuesday's Cactus Music in-store
Photos by Craig Hlavaty
Nothing could really ruin a Justin Townes Earle show - not even the worst venue setup in town. That handsome, rail-thin cowboy owns the stage as if trying to transform you back to the days when hardened souls put on a smile and played drinkin' and dancin' music for a seated, sober crowd. (More on that later.)
Earle has a personality that fits his honky-tonk, ragtime, '40s-'50s country sound. Every tune was introduced with a witty Western quip - the harmonica-led sawdusted ditty "South Georgia Sugar Babe" was preceded with a story about a nurse who worked in a methadone clinic Earle stayed in: "She fit the puzzle I was workin' on at the time," he said in a slow, Southern drawl.
Earle knew how to play to the uptight Duck crowd as he breezed through a collection of originals from his debut The Good Life and samples from next March's Midnight at the Movies LP. He also paid homage to his influences, and did them justice, with a fair amount of covers like Lightnin' Hopkins' "I Been Burning Bad Gasoline," Bo Carter's "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me" and the unexpected "Can't Hardly Wait" by The Replacements (which appears on Movies).
Earle's acoustic Epiphone echoes every note like he's playing five guitars, but he didn't stand alone. Flanking him were fiddle player Josh Hedley and utilityman Cory Younts - who switched from mandolin to banjo to harmonica to his own mustachioed lips - both clad in black pants, white shirts, cowboy hats and thin black ties.
The set played well and sure made you want to dance. Oh, yeah, that's right - the Mucky Duck is a dinner theater, not a music venue: chairs and tables so the seated audience can crowd the front of the stage. The place sold standing-room-only tickets but the standers (read: Aftermath and friends) were told to move every place we stood until finally we were practically standing behind the bar.
Maybe Aftermath is just getting old, but she remembers a time when she liked to move around to watch a band, who in turn preferred to have an audience able to respond to the music with more than a nodded head. Earle's music fit perfectly, or would have - two-step-ready tunes about drinkin', messin' around with no-good women and getting into all sorts of trouble.
But by the last round of tunes, the standers couldn't take it. By the back door, we two-stepped and polkaed, and got a thank-you from Earle and company. Performances are a two-way street and Earle didn't need us to make him any better, but any musician likes to see they're appreciated.
Hopefully, next time Earle will stop over at a place with a dance floor. Aftermath is looking your way, Continental Club - tell the cover bands they can have the night off. - Dusti Rhodes