"Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen, how are we doing?". Justin Townes Earle greets the house-full audience and launches into a 25 song set that covered songs from all three of his albums. He prowled the stage like a caged tiger, full of pent up energy and the need to express himself. This was frustrated at times by a temperamental tuner "technical difficulties" but otherwise Earle was in top form. Most songs were prefaced by anecdotes relating in some way to the song he was about to play. They Killed John Henry was prefaced by a mention of his grandfather Jack Earle. Mama's Eyes, a song for his Mother who he told us stood over 6 foot tall and managed to detach one of his father's retinas with a single punch. He also mentioned she was now using Facebook and said that if "she ever gets on Twitter I'm through". Earle live is quite a different prospect to the JustinTownes Earle on album where he utilizes a full band and range of instruments. Live he uses his considerable guitar technique that sees him playing both a hard rhythm as well as melodic lead lines that sound like there is more than one player. A second player would have undoubtably added depth to the sound, as was the case on his last visit when he had Cory Younts accompanying him. A point emphasized here when he brought support act James Walbourne and his brother Rob on for a set closing Harlem River Blues, the duo played mandolin and washboard and added vocal support. Being solo however gives him the freedom to play whatever song he felt inclined to. His set included covers of "the great" Bruce Springsteen's Racing In The Streets as well as a Texas blues song from Lightening Hopkins. He noted that Townes Van Zandt had said that there was only "the blues and zippity do dah" and that no set would be complete with a blues. That music genre undoubtably informs Earle's own songs as well as the covers he played. He didn't shy away from his own blues, telling us that his weaknesses included "young ladies and fried chicken", but he noted that while fried chicken had given him less problems than women it also gave him less to write about. His father he said noted that he was "a hard dog to keep under the porch". He mentioned his recent and ongoing problems with chemical dependence and incarceration. His love of vodka ("I like to drink it in the morning") as well as cocaine and pills were cited. This tour follows a much reported spell in rehab and one can only hope that this talented artist can keeps that side of his nature under control and that it doesn't diminish him as a live performer and recording artist. Because he is capable of a lot of insight and tenderness as with songs like Learning To Cry as well as the more driven hell-raising songs in his set. Make no mistake Justin Townes Earle is very much his own man and this audience loved him for everything that he is.
Review by Steve Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton