Last time Justin Townes Earle was here, I wasn't able to see him. Firstly, I had no one to go with (or so I thought). Secondly, I was in the midst of editing a rather epic and stressful project while also working full time and packing up all of my belongings in order to move out. I then heard from a pal who actually did go that it was Pretty Much the Best Thing Ever. Obviously I was beyond disappointed in my having chosen sleep over seeing endlessly talented, tall, dapper-as-fuck, singer-songwriter son of Steve Earle. Who needs sleep when you can have a night of the twangin' musical stylin' of JTE? Chumps. That's who.
Then, lo and behold, I heard he was coming back and I proceeded to lose my shit in excitement. Turns out he actually comes to Australia fairly often; he's been here about six times since 2008. Well, I praised the musical gods of touring at that nugget of information. To cut a long story short, I finally saw Justin Townes Earle on Sunday night at the Corner Hotel.
After so long spent watching countless live performances of Justin Townes Earle on Youtube, I can now happily say that I've finally seen him in the flesh. In fact, I wouldn't just say it happily - I'd probably shout it, with wild gesticulations and a slightly crazed look in my eye. I can honestly say that I haven't been that enraptured and mesmerised by a live performance, or that moved by a gig in a really, really long time.
|The entire night.|
Wanting to minimise the amount of time fiddling around absentmindedly on my phone while standing by myself, I ended up arriving about two-thirds of the way through the second of the two support acts. I instantly regretted my decision to be a pussy, as Robert Ellis was onstage and immediately grabbed my attention and interrupted my "find a beer and and try not to look like a loser" train of thought.
When I arrived, the Texas native was about to launch into "No Fun", the cause of my aforementioned distraction from beer acquisition. That song, and "Sing Along" were particular highlights from what I managed to catch of his performance. Post-gig, I made sure to buy a 7-inch single of "Friends Like These" and congratulate him on a super set. Standing by the merch table and shooting the shit with punters, he was just charismatic and friendly and as good a story-teller as he had been onstage, if not more. So you know, keep an eye out for him if you're into a good dose of twang.
In any case, I marched my way to the front and waited for JTE to take the stage. Which he did, after what felt like aeons and after I managed to hit myself in the face with my beer. How that happened I'm not entirely sure, but it did and it was awkward and I was by myself. That's entirely beside the point though, because shortly after I proved yet again that I can't leave the house without making an ass out of myself in some way, Justin Townes Earle took to the stage. And when he did, a huge grin must have appeared on my face and I'm pretty sure it didn't leave for the duration of his set.
The first thing I'll say about Justin Townes Earle is that his onstage presence is something to behold. He's charismatic, self-effacing, and has a sense of humour that's a little wry, that betrays some intense geekery and that is very, very engaging. As in, I spent a lot of time giggling. Even while mentioning rehab and stints in jail, he had the crowd laughing. He spoke about his mother, about living in a terrible part of Brooklyn, and revealed the stories behind a number of the more touching or #dark songs in his arsenal of tunes, all in that amazing Southern drawl of his. I'm sure they're anecdotes he shares regularly to crowds around the world, but the show had the intimate atmosphere of someone sharing something personal - needless to say, he had the Corner audience eating out of his hand before long.
Of course, I did manage to be standing next to the all-sway, all-singing, all "YEE-HAW!"-ing epitome of That Guy (or woman in this case) who doesn't understand proper gig etiquette. That was a little tedious. But for all of her off-key wailing and her shitty, no-sense-of-space or of time and place dancing, I couldn't really fault her too much. I mean, her exterior personified what I felt like on the inside, and isn't that a good thing? Besides, the guy standing on her other side informed her that he was at the gig to see Justin Townes Earle perform thank you very much so she did eventually shut up. Which must have been embarrassing for her. I empathised - I'd just hit myself in the face with a beer after all. BUT I DIGRESS.
It's worth mentioning that the evening show on Sunday was actually the second one he'd done that day; the first was a matinee show. I suppose when you do two shows in a day you've gotta do something to keep things interesting, and to my delight that led to a few different versions of songs. A blues adaptation here, a re-imagining of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" there (a particular highlight in my opinion), and a few moments of suddenly changing his mind or pulling out a song he hadn't played a long while. The set-list appeared to be in large part completely improvised, with moments of, "Ah, shit. I reckon I'll try it this way instead..." muttered while adjusting a capo, or re-tuning his battered black guitar.
I'll admit - if it wasn't already obvious - to being quite the fan of ol' JTE's catalogue. I suppose his particular brand of country and bluegrass twang peppered with tales of fuckin'-up, being down and out, heartache and redemption appeals on a very personal level. And I guess the fact that all those songs of his about being down and out, about heartache and redemption come from personal experience and IRL days of being down and out makes for some really affecting stuff.
That being said, I'm certain that even if I didn't have a personal attachment to his tunes and even if I didn't think him just about one of the most easy-on-the-eye/stylish people I've ever laid eyes on (I'm not even kidding), I'd have been pretty mesmerised by his performance. Completely disregarding any of his banter or his laughing at the shit yelled from amidst the crowd, his performances of the actual goddamn songs were kinda nothing if not heart-wrenching. Face contorting and body moving as his long limbs pace up and down the stage - it's like each note is a part of him wrenching itself free. If that sounds painful, it's not meant to be; it's just an indicator I think, of a singer who pours everything into every performance. It must be exhausting.
While I enjoyed the entire set (obviously), particular highlights in my opinion were "Look the Other Way", "One More Night in Brooklyn", "Black-Eyed Suzy", "Harlem River Blues" (SINGALONG, SINGALONG!), and of course, the previously mentioned "No One Knows You When You're Down and Out" (here's a link to another performance of it). For those of you playing at home, "Nothing's Going to Change the Way You Feel About Me Now" may have just been my mind-blowing moment of the set. Prefaced with a quip along the lines of "if you ask an artist you're dating to write a song about you, you might not like the result", it was the song I had been looking forward to seeing and it was all I could do to keep my hands from clapping involuntarily in glee.
Anyway, the set rollicked along in the charming, engaging, occasionally heartwrenching, occasionally hilarious fashion I have described in all sorts of gushing ways in this post. And at the end of the gig, I suddenly realised my attention hadn't wandered for the entire time JTE had been on stage. Which may seem like a strange thing to notice, but it's certainly noteworthy in my case. Even if I'm enjoying a gig immensely, I'll inevitably end up thinking about other things at points during the set, whether it be my To Do list for the next day, or something a song reminds me of, or whether I'll make the last train. Furthermore, I often find that by the end of a gig, I'll be ready to head home. Not that I hadn't enjoyed said gig, I'll just have had a sufficient session of rocking out and I'll be ready to head home and hit the hay. It takes something special for me to yell "MORE! MOAR!", and this was the first time in a long time that as the lights came back up I wanted much, much more.
In fact, I'm pretty sure the only time my mind wandered, it was for me to suddenly wish I'd come with someone, if only to be able to share the musical experience with someone. I wanted to teleport the friend I'd originally planned on going with to the Corner, because I knew the gig would've blown his mind.
Instead, I wandered on back home, all elated and in high spirits, and proceeded to describe how amazing Justin Townes Earle was to Mike and Jaz when I got home, with wild gesticulations and yelling and brandishing my cup of tea around.
Best gig in a while, in case that wasn't clear.
FEAST YER EYES ON THESE.