“Good to see you up there Stevie” yells a fan from the crowd. “Well, it’s better than the alternative” snarls Steve Earle back. This is how the great Americana survivor began his sold-out show in London Monday night.
Singing stories about war, drug-taking and alcoholism, Earle has the look and tone of someone who has obviously stared oblivion in the face and lived to tell the tale. Albeit in a semi-cautionary, I’ve-been-married-seven-times and I still have to go to AA and NA, but I’ve bagged two Grammys and a bit-part on The Wire kinda way.
Earle’s most recent, Grammy Award-winning album Washington Square Serenade is the focus tonight , with all but one track (‘Come Home To Me’) performed. Unfortunately, but it seems that the politically-charged songs from the albums that came before, Jerusalem and the anti-Iraq War The Revolution Starts Here have been put to one side.
Obviously living in New York, and marriage to Allison Moorer, who duets with him onstage on two numbers, have toned down Earle’s overt politicking . He hardly speaks on stage, with no comments made about the US presidential elections, Kosovo, Iraq – anything that we’ve come to expect from the outspoken ‘hardcore troubadour’ in the public arena.
Wearing a polka-dotted shirt with the sleeves rolled-up, Earle gets his early songs out first. ‘The Devils Right Hand’, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’ and ‘Someday’ are all short and stark, as though Earl doesn’t want to dwell too long in their shadows. He perks up, though, when he starts the run of tracks from Washington Square, the vigour of the songs sometimes backed with hip hop drum beats from his DJ , Neil MacDonald . Of these newer tracks, it’s ‘Jericho Road’ and the banjo-heavy ‘Oxycontin Blues’ which shine the most, perhaps because they’re the closest in feel to those early songs, Earle playing with verve and a glint in his eye.
However, the bleakest highlight is one of the most ‘I’ve-stared-down-the-barrel-of-a-gun drug song ever written’, ‘CCKMP’ (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain), which sounds stark and amazing in the Roundhouse. Earle’s cover of Tom Waits‘ ‘Way Down In The Hole’ – which appears on the opening sequence for Season five of cult crime drama The Wire – is the climax of the show, with MacDonald’s drum beats at their most effective. Earle’s voice is perfectly raspy, before the encore of three more old-guard pleasing tracks.
He closes the show with ‘Copperhead Road’ – and the lyrics (“Well the D.E.A.’s got a chopper in the air/ I wake up screaming like I’m back over there/ I learned a thing or two from ol’ Charlie don’t you know/You better stay away from Copperhead Road”) are possibly the most fitting for explaining the difference of Steve old and new, his escape from Nashville two years ago, and his continued attempts at staying out of trouble and alive. Yes, Steve, it IS better than the alternative – even if it’s not quite as interesting.
The full set list was:
Steve’s Last Ramble
Devil’s Right Hand
My Old Friend The Blues
Now She’s Gone
Tom Ames’ Prayer
South Nashville Blues
Sparkle & Shine
Days Aren’t Long Enough
Down Here Below
City Of Immigrants
Red Is The Colour
Steve’s Hammer (for Pete)
Way Down In The Hole
Rich Man’s War
Little Rock n’ Roller
Pic credit: Neil Thomson
Steve Earle – Live at London Roundhouse, Feb 18, 2008
"Good to see you up there Stevie" yells a fan from the crowd. "Well, it's better than the alternative" snarls Steve Earle back. This is how the great Americana survivor began his sold-out show in London Monday night. Singing stories about war, drug-taking and alcoholism, Earle has the look and tone of someone who has obviously stared oblivion in the face and lived to tell the tale. Albeit in a semi-cautionary, I've-been-married-seven-times and I still have to go to AA and NA, but I've bagged two Grammys and a bit-part on The Wire kinda way.