Steve Earle

Jordan Kessler
Steve Earle

Steve Earle

City: New York
Venue: Knitting Factory
Date: 2002-04-14
S E T    L I S T
Baby Let Me Follow You Down
Steve's Last Ramble
Tom Ames' Prayer
Now She's Gone
South Nashville Blues
So Different Blues
Limousine Blues
Some Dreams
Ellis Unit One
Me and the Eagle
I Ain't Ever Satisfied
Christmas in Washington
Steve Earle came to town as part of BeatFest 2002, a traveling tribute to "The Beat Generation" that was sponsored by a car manufacturer. In my eyes -- which glanced at the corporate logo projected on the Knitting Factory wall -- BeatFest was suspect. The lack of animation exhibited by Earle on stage only added to my skepticism. He stared into space for almost his entire set, barely shifting his body at all. That said, Earle writes meaningful songs in many genres and sings with the rough, knowing voice of the best American troubadours. He displayed all of these assets during his nearly two hour solo acoustic performance. Plus, his humorous between-song anecdotes amused the audience. In his twenty-odd years of recording, Earle has worn many hats, but his career can be divided roughly into two parts: on drugs and off. This may sound like just another episode of Behind the Music, but Earle's story does not follow the usual script. He got clean by going cold turkey in jail, not by visiting a fancy rehab. After his release, he began protesting the death penalty, and he witnessed -- live and in person -- the execution of a death row inmate he befriended. He has been married not two, not four, but six times. Steve Earle has lived more than a little bit of real life, and he is not afraid to sing about it. More physically fit than in years past, Earle -- bearded and wearing glasses, like a country tough turned academic -- took to the stage with his tattoos peeking out from under his red sleeveless vest. Armed with nothing but a six-string and a harp, he wisely grouped his songs by theme -- rambling, violence, blues, cinema -- giving his show an effective structure. He culled every song but one, "I Ain't Ever Satisfied", from his post-prison recordings and the catalogs of other songwriters. Earle joked about being a teenager who hopped on a freight train and traveled so far from home he had to call his dad to pick him up, but he became a much more adept drifter as he grew up, one who thought marrying three women and having a heroin habit meant he wasn't hitchhiking enough. This was the Earle who read from On The Road near the end of his set, the Earle who hitched to the home of William Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas and knocked on the door (Burroughs told him to fuck off). A different, sober Earle sang "Steve's Last Ramble", in which he considered hanging up his travelin' shoes. Two fascinating songs about violence -- one describing a criminal's run-in with faith, the other concerned with a black man crossing the tracks -- flowed into two tunes about parting ways with women. All this naturally led into a set of the blues, which started with two drug-related blues by Earle and ended with covers of songs by Texas blues masters Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, whom Earle met in his early days as a folk singer. On his latest record, Sidetracks, Earle included recordings that were either previously unreleased or those he thought had not received proper exposure, such as three excellent songs that had appeared on film soundtracks. "Ellis Unit One", a haunting portrait of death row recorded for Dead Man Walking, "Me and the Eagle", an ode to man's relationship with nature recorded for The Horse Whisperer, and "Some Dreams", a hopeful country rocker recorded for The Rookie, received the solo acoustic treatment at the Knitting Factory. Earle ended the evening with a political song, though one unrelated to the current war. In "Christmas in Washington", he spoke of a somewhat calmer time, when President Clinton was re-elected in 1996, though even then Earle wasn't satisfied. Faulting the Democrats for drifting too far to the right, he yearned for the days of Woody Guthrie and Emma Goldman. The audience, an enthusiastic crew of four hundred middle-aged hipsters, sent Earle into the night and back On the Road -- this time, cross country on a bus to the Knitting Factory in Hollywood, for the second leg of BeatFest 2002. Next time, for a change of pace, I hope to see Earle play with a full, electric band. Perhaps in that setting he would play some tunes from his recently-reissued 1986 classic, Guitar Town, or show off his skill for laying down nearly perfect country-rock (see his production work on the Lucinda Williams hit Car Wheels on a Gravel Road).

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.