ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, April 21, 1989
How many famous touring stars hang around backstage after a show, tirelessly signing autographs and posing for pictures, till nearly all the hangers-on have snagged their mementos and headed off, leaving the object of their affection looking around and thinking, “Where’d everybody go?”
Steve Earle is a rarity in today’s “grab-the-bucks-‘n-go” music biz, and he proved it for over two-and-a-half hours during his recent concert, spinning tales of ordinary people whose extraordinary lives are captured eloquently in his songs.
Earle started his 30-song marathon with “Copperhead Road”, the title track of his latest album, and when that tune’s familiar bagpipe intro wafted down to the beer garden, fans quickly quaffed their cold ones and stormed away to take in the most popular song of Earle’s career (so far).
Wearing a bright blue t-shirt, jeans, runners, red headband, and tattoos, the man took the surprisingly small crowd of 3,500 on a slow-paced but ultimately enjoyable journey through his three albums, tossing in the odd cover of songs by people like Ian Tyson (“Summer Wages”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Nebraska”).
In a rather unusual move he dedicated the latter tune to executed mass-murderer Ted Bundy. Admittedly, Earle deserves credit for stating his stance against capital punishment in such an up-front and controversial way–he could have easily dedicated the song to someone who’d been executed and then proven innocent. But few people in the crowd seemed thrilled by the Bundy mention.
Earle’s show ran the gamut from tough and raw (“Snake Oil”, “Back to the Wall”), to soft and tender (the lullaby for his son Justin, “Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”). His best tunes, like “Devil’s Right Hand” (extolling gun control) and the bound-to-be-classic “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” were included too.
During a three-song encore Earle commented on his particular fondness for Canada and the way the country has embraced his music. “The reason it works so well up here is because nobody cares if it’s called counry or it’s called rock.” Then he topped the night off with the Stones’ “Dead Flowers”, “Guitar Town”, and his mellow ode to living life on your own terms, “It’s All Up to You”.