LIVE: Steve Earle @ The Egg, 2/28/19
Review by Bokonon
Steve Earle is nearly Texas by birthright. Born in Virginia, he breathed Texas air as a babe and sucked up San Antonio like a sponge. More importantly, he was tutored in the zen of Texas by Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
Tellingly, all three left the Lone Star state early, eventually sharing Tennessee at one point or another. And as Tex Ritter famously pointed out, “They say Virginia is the mother of Texas. We never knew who the father was, but we kinda suspected Tennessee.”
At The Egg, last Thursday night, Earle spoke of his upcoming album, Guy. It is, naturally, a tribute to Clark, and an obvious follow-up to his 2009 disc Townes. Not a man of particular faith, Earle still said he didn’t want to meet Guy on the other side without having paid his tithe.
Van Zandt, Earle told the rapt sold-out crowd in the Swyer Theatre, gave sage, but vague advice — “Go read ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’.” Clark showed Earle how to diagram songs, in pencil, syllable by syllable, on graph paper.
Earle’s best work bears out the dichotomy — smart, faultless and socially aware. “This is an anti-gun song,” he said Thursday of one his earliest tunes, “The Devil’s Right Hand.”
He admitted that his “chick songs” — a groaning epithet that reflects his contradictions — are about himself, whether shining or brokenhearted. He played many at The Egg, and each rang true — “Sparkle and Shine,” “Valentine’s Day,” “Lonelier Than This.”
Earle has always addressed the making of his art in his performances, and in addition to tales of Van Zandt and Clark, he told a hoary tale of being in the same room, so many years ago, with Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb — Texans, too.
They explain his guitar style as much the former gentlemen point to his rich writing. A little slouchy, a little sloppy, Earle’s two-finger claw rang out at The Egg, especially early on with “My Old Friend the Blues,” which, in the end, may be the best thing he’s ever done. He whomped a twelve-string for “Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain” and “Angel Is the Devil.”
Hits came, too. “Someday,” “Galway Girl,” “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road.” And, yes, Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” was a highlight, too.
Opener Shannon McNally, lissome in cotton print, joined Earle for “Goodbye.” The buckwheat honey in her voice — dark, sweet, smoky — was a fine foil.
Her own set was powerful in its simplicity, with “Now That I Know” standing out.
The evening’s zenith came when Earle channeled his inner Pete Seeger — not a Texan — for “City of Immigrants.”
Earle is a political man, and his speech about the beautiful colors, sounds and voices, all of many lands, found in the Greenwich Village neighborhood where he’s spent the last 14 years, was as sweet as any song.