Last Night: Steve Earle At House Of Blues
During her sublime set at Verizon a couple of weeks ago, Emmylou Harris mentioned how she thought Barack Obama was pretty okay, and how she hoped his election meant our society had evolved beyond the events depicted in her ballad "My Name Is Emmett Till" - black man, white woman, angry Mississippi '50s townsfolk, bad result. Although Aftermath didn't even mention it in our review, apparently that was all several people who commented on it took away from the show. And something about NASA.
So let us just get this out of the way up front: If you work in the energy industry, you might not like this review very much either. Besides giving his new "sea chantey" "Gulf of Mexico" a "Fuck BP" tagline and a hearty flip of the bird, Wednesday night Steve Earle prefaced lonely Appalachian waltz "The Mountain" (which is about coal) with a brief soliloquy about his belief that humanity needs to step up its development of alternative fuel sources posthaste, drawing a mixture of cheers and catcalls.
Aftermath understands that many people feel they have a right to buy a ticket to a show and not be lectured to; we fail to understand how anyone can buy a ticket to a Steve Earle show and not realize he's going to say and do pretty much as he damn well pleases...
...which, it turned out, was play a nearly three-hour show (two sets, two encores) that was much heavier on ghosts and spirits than polemics, and had the unseemly habit of rocking like a mother when it wasn't tugging your heartstrings. Take a bow, Mrs. Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, whose barbecue-honey voice cured "A Change Is Gonna Come" into a gorgeous Stax confection that was more Otis Redding than Sam Cooke, but no doubt had both men beaming from above.
"I'm not really a political songwriter," Earle said in those pre-"Mountain" remarks. "Most of my songs are about girls." Indeed. Dead ones and live ones, as in Irish twins "Molly-O" and "Galway Girl," and dear ones like the object of "Every Part of Me," which was so tender it threatened to float off into the rafters on Earle's wounded-puppy-dog vocals alone. His tributes to mentor Townes Van Zandt, "Pancho & Lefty" and "To Live's To Fly," were as spiritually heartfelt as they were musically threadbare.
But he's no softie. Besides that BP dig, Earle took some poor highfalutin sod down a few pegs to the strains of Eleanor Whitmore's warped Cajun fiddle on "Little Emperor," lurked the shadows with a rusty Tom Waits switchblade on "Meet Me In the Alleyway" and poked at the bones of a dead Texas Ranger and Confederate general on the tough-as-nails "Ben McCulloch." Long stretches of the first set, which began at a simmer with several songs from new CD I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive and reached a smolder on "Telephone Road" and "Someday," were as sepia-toned as an old Civil War daguerreotype.