Royal Festival Hall 26th October 2015
“I wanted to make an album with this band because they rock...They are the best band I've ever had the pleasure of standing in front of.” Steve Earle says of the current line up of his band The Dukes (and Duchesses.) Tonight's performance focussed on showcasing songs from Earle's latest album The Low Highway, with the title track starting
the outstanding two hour set.This band of multi instrumentalists managed to raise the roof at the Royal Festival Hall making for a lively Tuesday night on the Southbank. His image may
have changed over the years from the country music Axl Rose in the Copper head Road days to his present guru look, it is certain that he has lost none of his power as a songwriter. Although it is a shame he has never achieved the dizzy heights that the likes of Bruce Springsteen have, even though there are similarities to be found between the two musically.
He doesn't talk much between the songs, but when he does, what he says counts. He justly points out that the song writers who were originally influenced by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan never experienced the same kind of hardship, until now. The current situation State side is something which Earle has become very passionate about, summed up in the Springsteenesque 21 Century Blues. He goes on to say that he has really become aware of this struggle since working on US show Treme – set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The song This City, which featured in the show is a testament to the resilience of human spirit. 'This city won't wash away, this city won't ever drown'; Poignant lyrics on the day after another massive hurricane hit the States. He told a story about how he discovered that a Catholic Church a few blocks from his home had always had a soup kitchen, “the line just got bigger.” This spurred Earle to think that “we make a choice, who we see and who we don't see.” This increased awareness to the plight of others led him to write the thought provoking song Invisible.
It is not just social ills that have influenced Earle, spending time in The Big Easy has clearly rubbed off. It's influence is apparent on the new album, from the French quarter fiddle and guitar vamps of Love's Gonna Blow My Way to the Blues stylings of Calico County. Perhaps his most personal song is Remember Me. At the age of fifty eight he talks candidly about the realisation that he may not be around to see his three year old son John Henry grow up. The song is a heartfelt prayer about not being forgotten, and is so personal it almost feels intrusive to listen.
It's not all new songs, Earle treats us to some old favourites like Galway Girl and Copperhead Road and the newish Little Emperor. Meanwhile the amazing Dukes (Chris Masterson, Kelly Looney and Will Rigby) and Duchess (Eleanor Whitmore) are behind him able to quickly and effortlessly change musical style as easily as they can change instruments. This evening also had Earle playing piano for the 13 time in public on the swinging and optimistic Pocketful Of Rain. Eleanor Whitmore, a tremendous fiddle player also continued to impress when she duetted with Earle on You're Sill Standing There, a song which he originally recorded with Lucinda Williams. Personally I feel that their version surpassed the original.
Two encores featuring My Old Friend The Blues and Mother's Little Helper and several standing ovations later leads to another socio-political song The Revolution Starts Now which closed the set. Steve Earle again proves himself to be a master storyteller who is ever growing with awareness of himself and his country and the world at large. As long this happens this musical outlaw and his band of merry men and women will continue to impress and inspire.