Monday, October 7, 2013

Steve Earle

He was in San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival... I passed on the dusty crowds in Golden Gate Park and paid my hard-earned dime to hear him last night at a nice but crowded venue on Valencia in the Mission, The Chapel.

Aside from his album with Del McCoury, The Mountain, which is one of my all-time faves, I have not followed Earle closely, but he is a great singer and a wonderful storyteller. I mean a great singer not in the virtuosic Al Green or George Jones fashion, but an expressive pop interpreter in the Dylan or Willie vein. He is also a lefty redneck. I feel no guilt whatsoever enjoying Merle Haggard's jingoism, but if you do, and need an excuse to listen to some good ol' country, check out Steve Earle. He confessed that he could no longer imagine living in Nashville, in his native Tennessee, which is why he now calls Greenwich Village home, and would choose San Francisco if he had to move. Country and roots-rock are great American populist art forms, and why should the left be deprived of the good stuff? Why, populist and progressive used to go together... remember Woody Guthrie and Upton Sinclair?

The first half of Steve's performance was the better half. As the night wore on, he could not resist a little gratuitous Walmart bashing (not my cup of tea, but forgivable) and a little kumbaya (less so), and even worse, he swapped his beautiful 6-string acoustic for an overly jangling 12-string and then even a banjo, which he played badly, and finished with some kind of mando-guitar. But when he opened his mouth, all was forgiven.

The opening act was Steve's son, Justin Townes Earle. The guy plays a mean guitar and has a good strong folk voice. I found his songs and style precious, a bit like Rufus Wainwright channeling, who, maybe Steve Earle? His best song of the night was by Buck Owens. Boy got good taste, at least.

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