Towards the end of the second set of his extremely entertaining concert at the Durham Performing Arts Center last Saturday night, Steve Earle recalled that he’s played in this area quite a bit over the course of his career.
Earle spoke of what he called the “I-40 tours of the ‘70s”, performing at the Pier in Raleigh, and boasted that he’s “played all 3 Cat’s Cradles!”
This, of course, got a big response from the audience. Back in the first set, there was little talk as Earle opened with the first 4 songs off his new disc “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” (also the title of his new novel). As the show progressed, the man loosened up and told some priceless anecdotes – the best of which was about his son, Justin Townes Earle, hiding his gun from him back in the day for the introduction to “Devil’s Right Hand.”
With 2 sets, each over a dozen songs long, and 2 encores, Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses, brought a generous sampling of their brand of country/rock/folk/bluegrass. Earle played nearly every song off of his new album (“Lonely Are The Free” being the only holdout), and a nice mix of his hits, including a rousing version of “Copperhead Road” which kicked off the second set.
After a touching duet with his wife, country singer Allison Moorer, on “Days Aren’t Long Enough”, Earle left the stage for Moorer to sing a couple of her compositions (“The Broken Girl”, “Getting Somewhere”), and a beautiful cover of the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
In the second set, bassist Kevin Looney sang one of his own songs, and guitarist Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, (violin, fiddle, vocals) played the catchy “Crash Test” from one of their recordings as The Mastersons.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great drum-work of Will Rigby, best known for the dB’s. Rigby has played with Earle since 1999 and it really shows.
Another highlight was when Earle, who appeared to switch up guitar, mandolin, and even bouzouki (which he warned to not call it that when going through airport security) on every song, brought out the guitar that belonged to his character Harley on the HBO show Treme: “This isn’t an old guitar, but it plays one on TV.”
The guitar has the phrase “This Machine Floats” painted on it, which he didn’t explain, but purists should know is a play on the statement on Woody Guthrie’s guitar: “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
The show would’ve been completely satisfying if it ended after the 3 song encore, but after the house lights came on then quickly dimmed, Earle and band came back out to play a passionate version of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.”
They then closed with one of Earle’s most rocking songs – “The Unrepentant” from his 1996 release “I Feel Alright.”
It was a night that surely delighted both purists and casual fans. Having never seen Earle live before, I can truly say that I am now a convert. Here’s hoping he’ll be coming to these parts for a long time.
Set 1: “Waitin’ On The Sky” / “Little Emperor” / “The Gulf Of Mexico” / “Molly-O” / “Every Part Of Me” / “Tom Ames’ Prayer” / “My Old Friend The Blues” / “Someday” / “Guitar Town” / “Days Aren’t Long Enough” (duet w/Allison Moorer)/ “The Broken Girl” (sung by Allison Moorer) / “Getting Somewhere” (sung by Allison Moorer) / “A Change Is Gonna Come” (sung by Allison Moorer)
Set 2: “Copperhead Road” / “Ben McCulloch” / “Mystery Train Part II” / “The Galway Girl” / “The Mountain” / “Free Men” (sung by Kelley Looney) / “Meet Me In The Alleyway” / “God Is God” / “Heaven Or Hell” / “Crash Test” / “This City” / “Taneytown” / “Hardcore Troubadour” / “The Revolution Starts Now”
Encore 1: “I Am A Wanderer” / “Hillbilly Highway” / “Devil’s Right Hand”
Encore 2: “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” / “The Unrepentant”