Justin Townes Earle
5 September 2012
Justin Townes Earle plays Dublin’s Whelans, and despite a few drunken revellers puts in an excellent performance.
Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle, one of the greatest song writers of his generation, whose turbulent life and talent is legendary.
Testimony to Justin’s own ability; he has struck out from underneath that long shadow and has managed to map out his own path, now on a par with his famous parent. He returns to Dublin’s Whelans tonight, after one of the most talked about live shows of 2011.
Tonight’s support comes from Omagh’s Maeve Dunphy. The songs are decent, and her style is nicely mixed, without being sloppy. In her short set we hear the varied influence of jazz, blues and county. The stand out track is ‘Beyond the Cover’, which she introduces as being a little different stylistically for her. It’s the pursuit of this type of song that will set her apart, and make people pay attention. Another highlight is set closer, a cover of Gary Nicholson’s ‘Shadow of Doubt’. Overall it’s an enjoyable set with plenty of evidence of serious potential.
Justin Townes Earle began his career in his Dad’s band, but was kicked out for hell raising. That might raise a few eyebrows, considering Steve’s own lucrative pursuit of the dark side. Their difficult relationship has been well documented, notably in Justin’s song writing, in songs like ‘Mama’s Eyes’, ”ËAm I lonely tonight?’ and ‘Movin’On’. They all get an airing tonight. Father and son may not always “see eye to eye”, but his influence has been a blessing, albeit at times a hindrance too
The complexity of their relationship is also evident in tonight’s tirade about how his Mum was left “with a 2 year old without any help at all”. He has learned from his Dad, but he hasn’t forgiven him. You feel he is exorcising the past in the way he is so forthcoming about it, and there maybe a lot that has yet to resolved.
He opens with ‘Memphis in the rain’ to an enthusiastic applause, and that’s quickly followed by ‘They killed John Henry’. If his relationship with his father is complex, he speaks with great affection for his grandfather Jack, a man “who earned a place on his arm”, and in his song. Justin has boundless energy, and his authority over words is mirrored in the impressive mastery of his guitar playing.
It was Woody Guthrie who convinced him that he might do this for a living, after all he “invented this job”. The compulsion to choose that path is outlined in ‘Wanderin’, a song that his father’s shadow looms over again.
His songs are prefaced with anecdotes, and musings on a wide range of topics related to the song that follows. “The girl that got way…then you see them, and you’re pretty glad they got away” ”ËI don’t Care’ “Nobody fucked me up, I’m just fucked up”,”ËMama’s Eyes’ “don’t beg a musician to write about you, you might get it after the fact.”Â ‘Nothing’s gonna change the way you feel about me now’ thematically, the songs are nearly always about relationships, familial, and those that involve the fairer sex.
His ability to bridge the gaps between songs may have developed out of the necessity to keep the crowd entertained while he moves his capo, or ensures the right pedal effect, something he is meticulous about. The resulting synergy is warm, funny, and personable, an interaction that is ultimately as revealing as his song writing.
Weirdly, for a mid week gig, and the intimate setting of the show, the place is awash with a few carousers. Most notably on the balcony, where a group of drunken revellers are convinced they are at a Pogues gig. First, a visibly annoyed Justin tells them “the clapping is fucking with my head guys”. They are obviously fans and that one request should have been enough.
Justin is later forced to tell them “I think you might fuck up the beauty of the show’, “thanks” for helping out, but “fuck off”. This gets a wild cheer from the crowd, if we wanted to listen to a drunken chorus, we could have stayed out on the street.
Steve showed Justin how to play Lightnin’ Hopkins ‘Been Burning Bad Gasoline’, after his dad showed him. The anger from dealing with the noise seems to effect the playing of his version tonight, and it sounds intense. He makes it entirely his own, something he later achieves again with his countrified run through of blues standard ‘Nobody knows you when you’re down and out’
Despite requests from fellow audience members, polite words from security, the upstairs crew are finally given their marching orders, and no one here will miss them. Singing at the top of your voice at an intimate gig is one thing, but talking loudly during songs is disrespectful, intimate shows require a certain type of etiquette. Any sympathy for their removal is short lived when a guy shouts at Justin to “go back on the beer ya queer” as he is leaving, a telling insult -untactful, homophobic, and abusive towards a man who has battled addiction.
It would be insulting, if it actually affected Justin, but he’s resilient. His quick retort “You can’t hurt me honey” says it all.
Later his tour manager admits Justin’s concerns are for the other people at the show, after all, the paid good money to come and see him, a sentiment echoed in his earlier exchange, “Shut the fuck up”, “other people came to see a show”
He doesn’t shy away from his troubled past, and tonight admits that at 18, he barely existed due to addiction. In fact, he went a whole year without writing while living in Chicago, but with the aid of a friend he wrote the scathing account of the windy city, ”ËRoger’s Park’ It would later appear on the critically and commercially successful ”ËHarlem River Blues’ off which he later plays the title track, “true faith is the answer, although I never signed up”.
His gospel influenced track sounds as good unaccompanied as it does with a full band and choir. He has no love for popular country music. In the ’70s Hank William’s 12 bar blues was removed from country, and he’s all for “putting it back in” and he does on ‘Ain’t glad I’m leavin’ from debut long player ”Ëthe Good Life’.
When relaying his memory of the Berlin Wall coming down he seems to make a joke about the earlier noise. He watched it on TV, and it’s “proof that a bunch of drunks can leave a good impression”.
It was the first time he heard the Replacements ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’, and it stuck with him. He recorded it for his ‘Midnight at the Movies’ album and his excellent version is now a staple of his live show.
He doesn’t delay coming out for a two song encore, and an inaudible request is met with “don’t know what you’re saying, the punk rock took my hearing”. He play’s a superb version of his father’s mentor, and his namesake’s ”ËRex’s Blues’, after which ”ËMidnight at the Movies’ ‘Halfway to Jackson’ brings thing to a close.
In spite of a few in the crowd who seemed adamant on souring our enjoyment, Justin resistively steered the show with honest and fearless song writing, warm interaction, and virtuoso guitar playing.
Nineteen songs picked from his entire repertoire (four albums, and one mini album) with the focus on most recent release ”ËNothing’s Gonna Change the way you feel about me now.’
All words by Ray Burke. You can read more from Ray on LTW here.