Last Night: Justin Townes Earle At Fitzgerald's

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Photos by Jim Bricker
Justin Townes Earle
December 2, 2010

It's been a tumultuous year for folk-rocker Justin Townes Earle. Lucky for him, we're fast approaching year's end. This fall the Nashville native and recently settled New Yorker released his third album Harlem River Blues, the follow-up to 2008's lauded Midnight at the Movies.

Midnight earned Earle some well-deserved press and a handful of Americana Music Awards, including Best New Artist. He also managed to turn the fashion industry's heads in the process; his chic style earned him the title of one of GQ's 25 Most Stylish Men of 2010.

It's no surprise Earle flourishes in his trade. He's a folk-rock blueblood, the namesake of late country legend Townes Van Zandt, not to mention the son of Americana titan Steve Earle. But his path to success hasn't been particularly painless.

By the tender age of 12, Earle began abusing drugs, an addiction that would shadow him into adulthood. Following the songwriter's September 16 show in Indianapolis, he was arrested and charged with battery, public intoxication and resisting law enforcement.

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The mêlée proved to be a sobering moment for Earle. Admitting drugs played a contributing factor in his behavior, he consequently checked himself into a treatment center and postponed the remainder of his tour. Thursday night's Fitzgerald's show was one of his first performances since he completed his month-long rehabilitation.

Earle swaggered onstage sporting a crisp grey suit, confidently defending his fashionable GQ title. Joined by upright bassist Bryn Davies and violinist Josh Hedley, Earle kicked the set off with Harlem's "Move Over Mama," his gangly stature towering above the mike. Within moments of seeing Earle live, spectators get the impression that the singer is, in fact, singing exclusively to them and them only. He creates an air of affability that enigmatically reels in his crowd.

Though liberally pulling from Harlem, Earle also sprinkled in tracks from his previous records, like The Good Life's "Ain't Glad I'm Leaving" and the vengeful two-step twang of Midnight standout "Halfway to Jackson."

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If you've seen JTE before, you're likely already familiar with his sheer onstage charm, best expressed in his entertaining storytelling. "My Mama raised me all by herself," Earle announced, his Southern twang endearingly exposing itself. "And if you've been reading the papers, you know I'm still a handful," he joked to a laughing audience. "Here's to Mama," Earle saluted before strumming the opening chords of the earnest "Mama's Eyes."

Earle evenly glided from subdued folklore to greased-up honky-tonk tunes fit for a dusty dancehall. Clearly a crowd well-versed in all things Earle, the fans were just as eager to reverently appreciate hushed numbers as they were to kick up their heels in spontaneous square-dances during his revved-up songs.

As Earle introduced "Slippin' and Slidin'," a tune that appears to narrate the songwriter's struggles with addiction, he finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: "I like to drink and do drugs... a lot," he admitted to his dutiful crowd. "But I'm not very good at it, as I seem to always end up in handcuffs."

But Aftermath's favorite song introduction preceded "Someday I'll Be Forgiven," as the singer bitterly quipped a faux dedication of sorts: "This one goes out to What's-her-name, wherever she is."

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