Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Not really by choice; I bailed on a few recent shows. Sorry if you pay attention to that UPCOMING CONCERTS blurb and were real interested in my takes on The Sadies and BA Johnston. (I would have said “they were good”) I blame work. Had some late nights to prep for a new product launch, and I get to do it again shortly. So it goes. I made a little extra coin and got a pile of tickets to new shows to make up for it.
Onto Steve Earle. Good fella. Good songwriter. Good musician. Saw him last year. He came back to town surprisingly quickly, and I was on the fence about going. Not because I had a bad time last time – liked him a bunch – but I’m starting to feel the pinch from going to a million shows a year and I need to dial it back a bit. Plus the casino switched to a new ticketing system and it was tricky, at first, to actually select a seat – you could only pick a section. But then they got their act together (or I did – who really knows?) and it became one of those “I’m having a rough and/or boring day at work, I need a treat” concerts. I’d say there will be fewer of those going forward, but history shows that only lasts for a month or two and then I’m back at it.
I can think of very little of interest surrounding this show. It sold out, I guess that’s important to mention. And it was relevant upon arriving, as the drive into the parkade was ridiculous. I screamed helpful advice from the inside of my car (“POINT YOUR CAR TOWARDS THE RAMP AND THEN DRIVE UP IT”) but nobody heard or heeded it. It was slow-moving mass chaos. Someone would try to park and nobody would know what to do. There was no danger of running out of spaces – the parkade has an entire extra level that nobody seems to know is there. Except me, I guess. I parked up there, above the rest of humanity, free from the maddening crowds but an observer thereof. Then I walked down the same pee-smelling stairwell as everyone else.
I had a cheap aisle seat at the back row of the balcony. The folks in my row were pleasant and didn’t make me get out of their way too often. You’re bored right now but I assure you this was nice. And I don’t have a whole ton to talk about.
Our openers were The Mastersons, who I’d never heard of except it turned out I’d seen them before. They were two members of Earle’s band last time he was in town. And this time. Earle himself opened the show by introducing them, which I thought was a really nice touch. Their songs were country-ish singer/songwriter stuff with him on guitar and her usually on guitar or fiddle. That’s not saying much but I feel like you get the gist of it. The sound wasn’t great for their set – the instruments were fine but the voices were mic’ed really high (so it was the opposite of my usual complaint, at least) and came in kind of shrill. Nearby fellow old people said the same thing.
Earle and his band, The Dukes – I want to say six people in total – entered the stage to the sounds of Johnny Cash’s cover of Rusty Cage. Last time out, they were on the anniversary tour for Guitar Town and played the whole album start to finish. With a little more freedom in the setlist this time, I thought I might hear more songs I knew, but that didn’t really happen. Instead I just got a wider variety of tunes that were new to me, along with a lot of the same hits and covers (Copperhead Road, Guitar Town, Devil’s Right Hand, Hey Joe) as before. And like before, this was all real good. The vocals were a little muddy but still better than they were for The Mastersons.
Apparently, I don’t have much to say. It might also be apparent that I wasn’t 100% into this show. Not the band’s fault – I was just kinda tired and I was ready to be done a little bit before they were. But whatever. I still had a nice time and all.
Earl and Duke. I just got that. Like, right now. This is off to a fine start.
This show was part of Steve Earle’s 30th anniversary tour for his debut album, Guitar Town; a tour that’s been going on so long that Guitar Town is now 31. I have vague memories of driving around with my dad as a kid, listening to Guitar Town, though upon revisiting to the album before the show, I found that I was very familiar with the title track and didn’t remember much else about it.
Earle was going to play the album start to finish, in what has to be the most common new gimmick I’ve seen in concerts in some time. When did this start? I’ve been to a few “anniversary” tour shows this year that did this, including I Mother Earth, Hayden, and Sloan. I suppose it’s a good way to get people to come out since it’s not like it costs extra, you might draw back some lapsed fans, and if someone has seen you before, you can promise them a different kind of show (and one they’ll likely only have one chance to see). Plus you might sell some extra copies of an old album too. I’m not opposed to the idea at all, though I wonder if it isn’t a bit polarizing. It’s great for people who are big fans of a specific album, but let’s say I only know a handful of an artist’s songs. And let’s say that artist is Steve Earle, hypothetically. Do I want to listen to an entire album instead of a show where you might get all the hits spanning his entire career?
As it turned out with Earle, you didn’t have to choose between the entire album and the hits. You got pretty much everything.
I picked up my ticket as soon as they went on sale and was a little surprised to see just how fast tickets were going. People love this guy. I’m pretty sure it was sold out within a day. I got an aisle seat up in the balcony – far back, but a nice view – though there really are no bad seats in the casino. I showed up about ten minutes before the show was set to begin, ran into Mark and Arlette which is always a delight, and found my way to my seat.
This is all super exciting for you thus far, and I figure it’s pretty much peaked. That’s how these go sometimes.
Unlike the custom at the casino, there was no local DJ to kick off the show. Instead, the lights dimmed and a recording played with what sounded like a radio dial tuning in station after station, switching between snippets of mid-80s news stories and pop culture. This was clearly custom-made for the Canadian shows, as the quick hits about Ronald Reagan and the Challenger disaster were mixed with clips referencing Ed Broadbent and the Beachcombers, two names I did not expect to hear on this evening. Also, I want to learn how to play an instrument and start a band that only covers Canadian hits and I want to call that band Ed Broadbent & the Beachcombers. Is Ed Broadbent still alive? OMG he is. Would he agree to this? I should find out. Does he have a Twitter? No. Well, an Ed Broadbent does, but not the Ed Broadbent in question. The Broadbent Institute has one, though. Should I ask them for permission? Or should I wait and ask for forgiveness? The latter is probably easier since I will never actually start a band. But I like this idea a lot.
Anyway, that’s something to consider later. Earle and his band took the stage and played through all of Guitar Town, with Earle adding a few stories along the way. The inspiration for the album came from seeing Springsteen on the Born in the USA tour – there’s an interesting fact for you. Another interesting fact about Guitar Town? It’s pretty short. They played through the album in what seemed like no time at all. After a brief intermission, they came back and played a longer set with songs from throughout Earle’s career. I didn’t know a ton of them, but there was The Devil’s Right Hand, The Revolution Starts Now, and of course Copperhead Road. The encore featured covers of Hey Joe and Wild Thing, as well as what I believe Earle said was a song by the Pogues, though not one I recognized (he said, as though to make it sound like there was an off-chance he’d know anything about the Pogues).
Well, that was all very… factual. So how was the show? I was a little leery buying the ticket, to be honest. A friend I worked with saw Earle a few years ago and really disliked him. What I saw was the opposite of that. Maybe she caught him on a bad night, or maybe she has questionable taste and judgment in pretty much all areas (this. it’s this.) but this show was fantastic. Great songs, the Dukes were tremendous musicians, and a raucous crowd that loved everything. I don’t really have a ton to say about it other than that. Definitely a show where I left a bigger fan than I was coming in.
That raucous crowd had a lot of help; at least where I was sitting, it was a constant stream of people coming and going to and from the bar. It got to be a bit much at times, but the layout of the seating there is such that at least they can walk past you without you having to move. Ample legroom is everyone’s friend.
For the last songs, a crowd gathered at the front of the stage, but before that, everyone was seated for pretty much the entire show. When the casino does general admission shows, they make the whole floor standing room. I wonder if they’d be able to make the closest part standing while still reserving some floor seating further back, in the elevated sections. Having the people standing down at the front helped the atmosphere, and that would have been welcomed from the beginning – but it also blocks the view of the people sitting at the front, and there were probably lots of people who wanted to be sitting.
If you want many more thoughts about the logistics of concert venues that you have never been to and will never go to, there are crisis lines you can call. Not, like, for this specific situation, probably. But talk to someone.