Steve Earle (solo acoustic) w/Allison Moorer @Pabst Theater
Milwaukee, WI July 20, 2008
Steve Earle came to Milwaukee with new wife Allison Moorer (who did a nice job opening the show,) DJ Neil McDonald, and a collection of stringed instruments including guitar, mandolin, banjo and National Steel guitar. Both Moorer and McDonald helped to accent the show, but Earle and his canon of songs took center stage. As Earle said to his fans shouting requests, "I've made a shitload of records – and those all sound like good ones". He was right. No matter what song he pulled out, they all sounded good. Even his usual rants of liberal politics didn’t overshadow the evening’s music.
Opening with “Christmas in Washington” and “Devil's Right Hand,” Earle spent the first 30 to 40 minutes on catalog favorites which highlighted his classic song-writing style that owes debt to Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Woodie Guthrie. He wouldn't play anything from his new album, Washington Square Serenade, for the first 45 minutes of the two hour set.
When he eventually dove into the new album, DJ Neil McDonald joined him adding subtle (and not so subtle) beats and samples to “City of Immigrants,” “Oxycontin Blues,” “Satellite Radio” and Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole.” McDonald’s modern flourishes helped the flow of the solo performance (though some purists were grousing) and he gave the new material a sharper focus – he added some New York (Earle's new home) flair to the more traditional Texas-roots music. One of the highlights was Earle and McDonald’s ability to create a wall of sound during “Transcendental Blues.” Earle stood at the front of the stage, playing his guitar, while the billowing noise of samples and beats washed over him. A huge, approving grin came through his beard as if he'd found the creative crossroads he'd been looking for.
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Moorer joined him to sing on a few songs. At one point, after watching her walk off stage, Earle had the quote of the evening saying, "I am seriously over married…" I don’t think anyone in the crowd would disagree.
The show closed with Earle leading the audience in the anti-war sing a long, “Steve's Hammer (song for Pete Seeger).” He came back to encore with “Galway Girl” and the obligatory version of “Copperhead Road” (why isn't everyone sick of that yet…). The crowd seemed to get what they had come for and I couldn't help but think how quickly two hours can go by when there is not one bad song in the bunch.