Steve Earle fits comfortably nowhere, his entire career defined by his ability to defy outright definition, frequently viewed by American commercial radio as too rock for country and too country for rock he is an artist unlikely to ever be inducted into either genre’s hall of fame, however it is Earle’s sometimes prickly, often confrontational, but always unflinchingly honest music which has drawn this crowd to his performance.
The setting of Kelvingrove Bandstand on a cool summer evening also seems to play into this dichotomy, a gig more sedate than his principles are used to; but a crowd he can control and manipulate with the power of his words, guitar playing and autobiographical song writing style, similarly, his lone entrance to the stage is purposely unassuming, with no fanfare, no pomp or circumstance; an artist much more concerned with substance over style.
With thirty years in the business, Earle understands his audience and begins at the beginning with a song from his debut album Guitar Town ‘My Old Friend the Blues’, The Dukes classic ‘I Aint Ever Satisfied’ is quickly followed up by ‘Now She’s Gone’, which bleeds into ‘I Can’t Remember If We Are Saying Goodbye’, which Earle combines with the honest declaration “same girl, different harmonica”.
‘I Feel Alright’ releases the tension built up by the more impetuous element of the crowd due to a lack of established ‘hits’, however ‘South Nashville Blues’ reiterates Earle’s renegade country chops which, steeped in traditional blues techniques and confessional balladeer avowals, calls to mind Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zant.
Steve Earle is, as an artist, of a different type than many would expect to the extent that some make the mistake of considering him to be in a jovial mood, shouting out song requests only to be abruptly told to “I’m not going to play that fuckking song, moron!”
Nevertheless, Earle does do his best to cover all the bases and the largest cheer from the crowd goes up with the inclusion of 2000’s Transcendental Blues track ‘Galway Girl’, to which the delighted crowd attempt a strange, and somewhat confused, mixture the do-si-do and an Irish jig.
While introducing ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’ he highlights the dangers of handguns by alluding to the strained relationship with son, singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, and how a gun of his own may have contributed to it when he had Justin sent to a juvenile correction camp for stealing it.
‘Copperhead Road’, the penultimate song of the evening, is a much loved staple of Earle’s set to which the crowd can sing the chorus back at him with all their might and conviction in an sincere attempt to thank him for his own.
The current political situation in the Gaza Strip causes Earle to end his set with ‘Jerusalem’, in which he sings hopefully: “I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham… will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem”, a small gesture, but one much appreciated by tonight’s bandstand crowd.
Words: David Mcphee
Photos: Bill Gray