LIVE: Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 3/27/14

Review by Bokonon
Video and photographs by Timothy Raab

In the first few years of her career, Shawn Colvin was devastating. Remember, she was already 33 when “Steady On” was released in 1989, a fully developed artist who had advanced beyond a mere Joni Mitchell fascination to carve out her own hard, smooth territory.

The propulsive, open-tuned guitar, the flinty, percussive lyrics and a terrifying gift for melody — all of which were nurtured by a relationship with John Leventhal — joined with a preternatural onstage confidence, making Colvin something more than powerful, but mesmerizing.

But around the time she finally hit it big, with “Sunny Came Home,” in 1997, the demons started creeping out of her songs and into her life. Depression cracked the façade and her performances became scattered, sometimes downright weird.

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At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last week, Colvin confided — hell, confessed — “I just don’t care anymore.” At one point she even talked bluntly about wanting to return her daughter, like an ill-fitting hat, to wherever she came from.

That kind of honesty makes for powerful songs, and Colvin has, in fact, won back some her former onstage focus, but her show at the Hall — a duo outing with Steve Earle — remained a reminder of her abilities rather than a confident display of such.

The same could be said, to a lesser degree, for Earle.

Their tour is a wonderful idea, putting two great songwriters together to trade stories and tunes, and to grapple occasionally as accompanists. But too often, things were tentative. Earle often seemed stiff with Colvin, not quite sure how their distinctive rhythms were to mesh.

When things did click, as on Colvin’s “Diamond in the Rough” (oh, to hear that woman play guitar when she’s on!), the promise was revealed. Just as often, as on a stilted “Someday,” it wasn’t.

Earle’s hoary stories were fascinating, and the man should consider a spoken word gig at some point. Colvin’s revelations were the stuff of a therapy session, but often intriguing. But the fact that so little new material was explored seemed criminal.

From the stage at the Hall, they talked about touring more, maybe even making an album together. That would be glorious. Once they get out of their own and each other’s way, they will make some serious song together.

Let’s call this one a baby step in the right direction.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union

SHAWN COLVIN & STEVE EARLE SET LIST
Wake Up, Little Susie (both) (Everly Brothers)
The Devil’s Right Hand (Steve)
Another Long One (Shawn)
Goodbye (Steve)
A Matter of Minutes (Shawn)
Crazy (Shawn) (Gnarls Barkley)
Pancho & Lefty (Steve) (Townes Van Zandt)
Summer Dress (Shawn)
Someday (both)
Fearless Heart (both)
Diamond in the Rough (both)
City of Immigrants (both)
Burnin’ It Down (both)
Sunny Came Home (both)
Galway Girl (both)
You’re Still Standing There (both)
ENCORES
Baby’s in Black (both) (the Beatles)
Copperhead Road (both)

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle

Shawn Colvin

Steve Earle

Steve Earle

Shawn Colvin

Shawn Colvin

Steve Earle

Steve Earle

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