It seems, almost without fail, when you read about Justin Townes Earle, people write about ghosts and shadows. I didn’t see a single ghost or shadow last night. I don’t think anyone else did either. Enough said.
Earle hit the stage at the Rev Room backed by a very adept four-piece band that included drums, stand-up bass, electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. Earle played acoustic guitar the entire night. He claimed that this was the first time he had played live with a band in 10 years. I’m not sure about that, but that is what the man said. Notably absent from the line up was fiddle player Amanda Shires. Earle kicked it off with a couple of songs from his new album, “Nothing is Going to Change the Way I Feel About You,” due out later this month on Bloodshot Records. First up was “Passing Through Memphis in the Rain,” providing a little tip of the hat to us Arkies, even if the lyric is not all that flattering: “…got to keep that hammer to the floor until I am clear outta Arkansas.” Earle then launched into “Look the Other Way.” “One More Night in Brooklyn” was up next, and this familiar song had a good many folks in the crowd singing right along and shaking and swaying to its groove. Several more new songs made up the first set.
More after the jump, plus video of "Passing Through Memphis in the Rain."
Earle then played a short set of songs only accompanied by his black, small-bodied Gibson acoustic guitar that complemented his jacket tie and tall thin frame perfectly. During this set he completely tore down a stone cold badass rendering of “My Starter Won’t Start (Bad Gasoline),” by legendary Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. Friends, you got to have a little something tucked away in your back pocket if you are going to cover a Hopkins tune, and Earle certainly does.
When the band came back for the second set, the crowd was treated to a slew of familiar songs. Amongst them was “Harlem River Blues” which seemed to have the entire audience singing along (many in harmony) as if we were all in church and had hymnals in our hands. He also gave a very strong performance of what may be his signature “Mama’s Eyes.” But the absolute highlight of the night for me was “Christchurch Woman.” If you are not familiar with it — and you should be — it is one of those lonely-hearts songs that has this rare way of making you feel so damn sad, but that lets in just enough sunshine that you still get this warm feeling that things will be alright after all. His performance of this song literally wrung my heart out like an old washrag. I know that we are still in the first quarter of the year, but this was one the best shows I have been to and will most likely stay atop that list for quite some time.
Tristen opened the evening with nine songs. Most had a poppy feel with some rich, dark undertones and were solidly written. A couple of the standouts were “Catalyst” and “No One is Gonna Know.” I found her sound to have a duality — at times it seemed to have a certain throwback quality, while having a freshness all at the same time. If she makes her way back through these parts, she and her band are definitely worth a listen.
"Passing Through Memphis in the Rain"