Saturday, May 16, 2009

Steve Earle - Twist and Shout in store 5/15

Steve Earle gave a free in-store performance at Twist and Shout Records in Denver yesterday (5/15), promoting his just-released album Townes, a collection of Townes Van Zandt covers.  The performance exemplified just what I appreciate in live performance these days, which was a presentation that's not just the album as you'll hear it in the recordings, but a well thought out mix of songs and stories that you won't find anywhere else.  Even though I dropped $30 on the vinyl album, they wouldn't let the wife and I both into the wristband line (of people who had bought the album), so I told them to keep it and hung back with the good old common folk where there was plenty of room to see Earle anyway.

The crowd was a mix of just what you'd expect from outlaw country rocker turned political activist: old musicians (playing it super cool of course, and talking about recording equipment), hipsters (silly hats), frat boys (untucked Banana Republic shirts), moms and dads (wearing mom and dad clothes and wandering around loudly asking questions about what line they should be in), rednecks (rednecks), and redneck meth-heads (evidenced by uncontrollable outbursts and inability to stay still).  Throw in a few people with old Copperhead Road shirts and it was show time.

Earle mixed the set with his own songs and Townes songs from the album. The performance started out with "Taneytown," and went straight into the music for "Rex's Blues," which served as background music for Earle providing a short monologue about Van Zandt. "I had a friend and a teacher and his name was Townes," he began. What followed were a number of recollections and stories about Townes, including his love the Colorado Rocky Mountains and a statement that he believed Townes truly began to die the day he moved away from Texas. Finally, he detailed that he had made a record of 15 covers of Townes' songs, and "this ain't one of 'em," at which point he followed into the lyrics for Rex's Blues to go with the music he'd been playing before.

If memory serves me correctly, next up was "Fort Worth Blues," not a Townes song, but Earle's own tribute to Townes from El Corazon. That song alone turned me on to both Earle and Van Zandt when I heard it the first time on the Austin City Limits tribute to Van Zandt.  I posted a link to a video of that performance some time back -- it still gets me just about every time.

Overall, the rest of the set followed with a mix of Earle's stories (including a reference to Big Spring, TX), Earle's politics, and a few more songs from the album - "Lungs," "Pancho and Lefty," and "Colorado Girl."  Having bought and listened to the album, the performances are strong, and the liner notes fit the album perfectly.  Don't expect earth-shattering performances or never before heard songs (which Pitchfork must have been looking for), but I think you'll find a well thought out tribute to a friend.  Earle explained that he recorded the guitar and vocals in his apartment in New York because he wanted to focus on playing them the way he remembered Townes playing them.

A couple of other notes of interest.  1.) Justin Townes Earle joins his dad on "Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold," which I understand is his first collaboration with his dad on an album.  2.) For those of who can handle buying such things, the new Rolling Stone has a great article in the new issue (Green Day cover) about the elder Earle, van Zandt, and J.T. Earle if you get a chance to check it out.  I don't think an online version of the article is currently available.  3.) I don't know why New West didn't provide downloads with the vinyl version, but there's something about the album that makes me glad they didn't, even if they were just saving money.

To revisit "Fort Worth Blues" once more and further risk suffocation in my own sentimentality, I think the most striking thing I gained from this show was an understanding of the song I didn't have previously. The lines that always meant the most to me in the past were "you used to say the highway was your home, but we both know that ain't true, it's just the only place a man can go, when he don't know where he's traveling to." It's a poignant tribute to a friend that  has always struck as me one of the moments where a songwriter finds the words to say exactly what he means. 

However, on this particular day, the line that really struck me was "every place I travel through I find, some kind of sign, that you've been through." Something about this line made me realize that it's as much about Townes himself as it is about the loved ones he left behind, and how they have to deal with his memory on a regular basis.  Earle truly is a survivor and the thing I appreciate the most is that he's taken the time to share memories with us of his friend Townes Van Zandt.


Derek said...

I wish they had left the apartment versions alone. Probably would have been too much of a masterpiece.

Windfarm said...

apparently the deluxe edition actually includes a CD with those, but that didn't come with the vinyl version.