Things we learned from Texan alt-country icon Steve Earle's solo show at Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow, one of a several summer dates across the UK.
Earle paints an impressively rich canvas with just a few basic ingredients.
The hardcore troubadour commands this newly refurbished open-air amphitheatre in a low-key way, drawing us in with a broad rootsy mix of country, folk, blues and ragged acoustic punk. The emotions range from finger-picking lost-love confessionals like Girl on the Mountain and Goodbye to Springsteen-sized highway anthems like Someday and Fearless Heart. Late in the set, the mandolin-plucking ballads Galway Girl and Dixieland seem to touch a Celtic nerve in Glasgow, igniting a mini ceilidh of whirling dancers down the front.
Those early Bob Dylan comparisons are finally starting to make sense.
Twenty five years ago, Earle was an alt-country junkie upstart standing on the shoulders of songwriting giants like Dylan, Woody Guthrie and his personal hero Townes Van Zandt. Nowadays, on the cusp of 60 and newly separated from his country-singer wife Allison Moorer, these word-weary anthems of burnt-out love and spiritual defeat strike a more authentic note. Written by Earle as a precocious young man, My Old Friend The Blues and Now She’s Gone now sound like ageless classics of hard-earned, harmonica-blasting, heartbroken Americana.
Steve Earle solo is a very different animal to Earle with his Dukes band.
Anyone who can entertain 2,000 people with just a guitar, a harmonica and a raspy voice deserves maximum respect. But there are still times in this show when Earle reaches the limit of his one-man-band skills. The rich blend of voices and textures from his recent big-band shows are sorely absent, especially Moorer’s lush Alabama twang.
He has reached Peak Beard.
Increasingly grizzled and whiskery at the age of 59, Earle is the hairiest man in Scotland tonight, even in a famously unshaven city like Glasgow. Imagine Brian Blessed crossed with Johnny Cash. But he includes a selection of romantic “chick songs” like Sparkle and Shine and Valentine’s Day in this set as bait to keep younger female fans coming. Otherwise, he explains, his audience gets “exponentially hairier and uglier every year.”
He seems unusually cautious with his political statements nowadays.
Surprisingly, with half the world in flames and Scotland on the eve of its independence vote, Earle resists making any political comments during most of this show. Only with his final number, the rousing peace anthem Jerusalem, does he give a pained speech about current events in Gaza and his imminent trip to Israel to play with Jewish and Palestinian musician friends. Glasgow sends him off with a huge standing ovation.