Steve Earle’s got a place in Woodstock these days, and the power’s still out from Irene. But the juice is back on at the Bearsville Theater, so Earle plugged in on Friday night, and how.
“It’s good to be home,” he said partway through the nearly three-and-a-half hour show. “Electricity or not.”
The latest incarnation of his long-running band is called the Dukes and the Duchesses, the distaff half making room for his wife, Allison Moorer, and new band member Eleanor Whitmore. Both bounced between a bunch of instruments at Bearsville, ranging from tenor guitars to accordions and fiddles to twelve-strings.
Unfortunately, Earle’s touring sound man couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map, so often enough Whitmore’s contributions, and about half of Earle’s vocals went unheard. In the comfy confines of the Bearsville that was frustrating but oddly not a dealbreaker.
Earle fans were still howlingly pleased by the set list (high on tunes from his latest, “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”), the band (driven by the stalwart Will Rigby on drums and Kelly Looney on bass) and by Earle’s very political stage patter.
Earle himself took the multi-instrumentalist thing to the hilt, rolling out a collection of guitars, mandolins, mandolas, bouzoukis, banjos and more.
He also made room for his friends. Moorer was given a three-song spotlight to close the first set (and she dazzled the standing-room-only crowd with her take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”); Looney sang a tune about forty nights; and the Mastersons (Whitmore and utility infielder Chris Masterson) rocked up “Crash Test.”
Earle’s best moments were old and new. A speech about hydrofracking jacked him up enough to invest “The Mountain” with a primal, seething keen, and “This City,” from the TV show “Treme” wowed the crowd, who wowed him back.
For the latter, Earle even brought out ‘Harley’s’ guitar, the distressed Martin six-string used by his character in the series.
Woodstock being Woodstock, Earle – beaming – brought out John Sebastian for a few numbers at the end of the show.
Sebastian was in usual form, offering genteel support and stunning harp. He’s too respectful to upstage you, but he will blow you away.
Between rendition’s of Springsteen’s “State Trooper” and Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” Earle simply said, “That one’s by Bruce, this one’s by Bob.”
He looked meek, however, during another round of encores. After strapping on his own harmonica rack, he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder and whispered, “That was John Sebastian!”
Review by Michael Ruby
Video by Bryan Thomas
STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES AND THE DUCHESSES SET LIST
Waitin’ On the Sky
Gulf of Mexico
Every Part of Me
City of Immigrants
My Old Friend the Blues
Days Aren’t Long Enough (with Moorer)
The Broken Girl (Moorer)
Getting Somewhere (Moorer)
A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke) (Moorer)
Train A Comin’
Meet Me in the Alleyway
God Is God
Heaven or Hell
Crash Test (the Mastersons)
The Revolution Starts Now
Brand New Companion (Townes Van Zandt) (with John Sebastian)
State Trooper (Bruce Springsteen) (with John Sebastian)
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Bob Dylan) (with John Sebastian)
Christmas in Washington
Home to Houston