Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Steve Earle @ the Corner, 29/3/12

It’s a full Corner Hotel tonight– even the front bar is packed with Tigers fans undergoing the traditional Round One disappointment. Meanwhile in the band room, the Jess Ribeiro Duo battle sound issues to showcase a set of mellow originals that merit more than polite indifference.

But there’s only one man the crowd have come to hear – and that’s just as well, because there’s no one else on stage with him.

On reflection, this intimate solo show is a fitting way for Steve Earle to present his new album I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Earle may have bested heroin – and been rewarded with remarkable, sustained vitality over the last two decades – but he is clearly feeling his own mortality. He recently moved from Nashville to Greenwich Village to ensure he retains a community of fellow artists well into his later years.

So far so gloomy, you might think. But staring death in the face gives Earle an undeniable power which at times borders on the holy. This is a man who lives his values, and tonight he shares them not just through music, but also the meandering introductions that flesh out the philosophy behind his songs.

Early in the piece he introduces his bazouki (which he later swaps for a guitar and then a banjo) as an “immigrant instrument”, one that washed up on the shores of Ireland to be reclaimed by a new musical tradition. “Immigration is our past” he declares, “it’s our present – and if we have a fucking future it’s our future as well.”

Before playing “Jerusalem”, Earle talks of his unshakeable belief in a peaceful future in the Middle East and around the world. When he says “I am a recovering heroin addict and I cannot afford to believe in a lost cause or a hopeless case”, it’s hard not to be swept up in the moment.

Not everyone is feeling the love, though – there’s a core of drunk revellers wanting a more toe-tapping set. As early as the spine-tingling acapella intro to second number “Gulf of Mexico”, a lone voice responds to shooshers by hollering “I don’t want to be in church!”

It’s an oddly apt complaint, but the majority are clearly rapt to be in the house of Earle tonight. Even new numbers “God Is God” and “Every Part of Me” are greeted with reverence, while“Copperhead Road” and “Devil’s Right Hand” close the set on a note of jubilation.

Troubador, preacher, activist and prodigal son: Steve Earle stands in all these traditions, and his voice is as vital as ever.

(published in Inpress, 4/4/12)

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