ATN correspondent Steve McConnell attended
Steve Earle's performance at the Great American Music Hall on Wednesday (Jan.
17). Here is his report: "Hey, Steve. Good to see ya'," came a shout
floor at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. "Good to be here,
man," replied Steve Earle. "It was close." And he wasn't kidding.
country rocker Steve Earle, perennial hard-luck kid, turned 41, celebrating his
January 17th birthday by playing to a SRO packed house at the old S.F. theater.
Backing him during the two hour plus performance was the marvelous group of
musicians which accompanied him on his Train a Comin' album (released
last year on Winter Harvest Records), including Peter Rowan (mandolin, guitar),
Norman Blake (guitar, dobro), and Roy Huskey (standup acoustic bass). The band
has gathered for a sporadic series of dates on the West Coast, and if they
manage to coordinate their schedules for a national tour, you should mark the
local date on your calendar in indelible ink.
This was Earle's first trip
to the Bay Area in a number of years, mostly due to an unfortunate break in his
career when he spent time in prison following a drug bust. Since getting out of
jail and cleaning up his life, Earle has resurrected his musical life largely
on the strength of Train a Comin'. Taking an acoustic approach (don't
call it Unplugged), Earle has created a sound, both on record and in
performance, which draws on the inspiration of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark,
with a little Springsteen dropped in.
Hitting the stage dressed in a black
t-shirt and camouflage suspenders, Earle and his band played nearly all the
songs off of Train a Comin', along with old favorites, including "Guitar
Town," "Fearless Heart," and "Copperhead Row" (all performed acoustically).
Highlights of the show included "Sometimes She Forgets" ("Travis Tritt covered
this one, and it was a financial pleasure," said Earle), as well as a 20 minute
solo portion which included "Goodbye" (which Emmy Lou Harris has covered on her
Wrecking Ball album), and "Ellis Unit One," a song about a prison guard
which he contributed to the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Unlike the
other contributors to that album (Johnny Cash excluded), Earle wrote and sang
Steve Earle clearly enjoyed both the spirited audience
response, and his new lease on life. Towards the end of the show, the staff of
the Music Hall brought a cake and candles onto the stage, and then handed out
slices of cake to everyone in the audience. Earle, who will have a new rockin'
album, the autobiographical I Feel Alright released on March 6, seemed
genuinely touched by this gesture (as well as the presence of his father in the
audience). "I never celebrated my birthday in San Francisco before," he said.
"I did get served divorce papers here once."