Steve Earle, Hayes Carll Tuesday, February 2 Boulder Theater Steve Earle is going to pretend he's playing a Tom Waits cover, but we all know he's doing the theme from The Wire. That out-of-his mind guy in the back with the shockingly loud voice tells him he was great in The Wire. Steve thanks him, and plugs David Simon's next vehicle, Treme.
Bet Steve wishes he could punch this particular fan in the face. Because this guy has an internet connection and clearly too much time on his hands, earlier in the night, he beat Steve to the show's dedication. Steve was not happy about this. Later, the guy shouted the name of the next song, and Steve just shook his head in frustration. Incidentally, I am 99 percent sure this same guy told me in the bathroom that washing your hands is for squares.
But by the time he plays the theme from The Wire (actually "Way Down in the Hole"), Steve is too pumped about the support he's getting from a large number of middle-aged liberals sitting down in the Boulder Theater to care much about one attention starved and drunk fan.
This is the first song of a greatest hits encore that will also feature "Jerusalem" and "Copperhead Road." Both of these staples of the Earle canon earn off-tempo and promptly-aborted clap-alongs from the crowd. Those clap-alongs are when we are all officially as far away from Real American Adventure of Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt as the night will take us.
Steve Earle is touring to support his latest album, a collection of Van Zandt covers called Townes. This is the final stop on the tour, and Earle seems to be using the night to finally say a proper goodbye to Van Zandt. He picked this place as the final stop on the tour expressly because of what it meant to the late folk hero.
And Earle has already told us several stories about Van Zandt's time in Colorado, from his horse rides through the mountains to the first frat function of his one year at CU. As a legacy pledge, Van Zandt was asked to show up with something to drink. Earle told us how he showed up two hours late with a nearly-empty gallon of whiskey and his pledge pin pierced through his naked torso. In the context of all the Van Zandt lore, this seems entirely possible.
Earle met Van Zandt later, and the latter became a mentor. He stayed with Earle and taught him songs and, in his own way, tried to free Earle of his heroin addiction. Because of what they shared, Townes is a beautiful statement all its own.
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My (and I suspect most people of my generation) largest exposure to Steve Earle up to this point has been The Wire. What I didn't realize until tonight is how precisely he is playing himself on the show. There is the recovering heroin addict thing, of course, but the rest of it is there too -- the open mind, the charitable heart, the imposing presence, the most intoxicating twang you'll ever hear.
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Earle's political leanings (pinko) are his second favorite conversation topic tonight, behind Townes Van Zandt. He's always been outspoken on this front, even when he's not in The People's Republic. So it's no surprise when he goes on his, "Obama, I love you, but I'm a little disappointed" rant.
It's still a little uncomfortable, however, because I can't tell Toby Keith to mind his own damn business and then applaud someone like Earle just because I agree with him. On the other hand, it is folk music, and without his viewpoints, Steve Earle is just another dude with a commanding voice, a blues scale, and more than a few bad decisions in his past. Opener Hayes Carll is younger than Earle, but you would barely know it based on his voice alone. He howl/moans his songs like a veteran hound, world-weary and wise. His lyrics are a different matter -- similar in overall message but playful with language. See: "She Left Me For Jesus," which is about... well, you know. The last line of verse two has Carll speculating of the Messiah, "I'll bet he's a commie. Or even worse yet a Jew."
It's funny because He is.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I will never be as authentic as either of these dudes. Awesome show. Random Detail: Steve Earle played almost exactly two hours. Still, the show was over by 11. That's what you get with mandatory sitting down -- punctuality. By The Way: This show was sold out and then some. Don't get me wrong -- Steve Earle is making great music right now -- but the lesson here is keep playing shows until people appreciate you. It might take 35 years, but you'll get there.