By Chuck Cox
Steve Earle is lucky to be alive. As music fans, we’re even luckier that’s the case.
I can’t imagine being deprived of hearing Earle play his outstanding music. That’s the thought that kept crossing my mind during his incredible set at Billy Bob’s on Saturday night.
Dude is a survivor. He’s battled his way through alcohol abuse, drug abuse and almost double-digit failed marriages. But, he’s still standing there, mixing brand new songs and his timeless classics, with his trademark tied up bandanna on his right wrist, singing like he means it.
Even at 59, Earle is one of the best performers in the business. And he can still surprise you, too. Like, when he took a turn on the keyboards to play a song from the blues album he’ll be recording later this year. “I know what you’re thinking: What the f*** is he doing over here [at the keyboards]?” Earle joked. Of course, he nailed it.
It was one of several high-water marks for the evening, starting right off the bat with Earle opening things up with the sublime “Fort Worth Blues.” For me, any time an artist takes the time and effort to cater a song to where he’s playing, it adds something special to the show.
In addition to the songs, the set list had really nice flow. After an early run through rocking songs like “Calico County” and “Hard Core Troubadour,” Earle did a few songs from his Treme days, an HBO show on which he played musician Harley Wyatt.
Then, Earle hit the crowd with a trip down fuzzy memory lane. In order, he played “Ben McCulloch,” “You’re Still Standing There,” “My Old Friend the Blues,” “Someday,” “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road.”
Having seen him last September in Seattle, I kind of knew what to expect down the stretch. He closed the main set with “Little Emperor,” “Billy and Bonnie,” “Mystery Train, Part II,” “The Galway Girl,” “Down the Road, Part II” and “Down the Road.”
He closed the show with a pair of two-song encores. First, “I’m Still in Love With You” and a cover of the Band’s “Rag Mama Rag,” which he dedicated to the late Levon Helm. Then, a cover of ZZ Top’s “Francine” and “The Revolution Starts Now.”
Just like the Seattle show, talented husband-wife duo the Mastersons opened with a strong 30-minute set before coming back out to play in the Dukes, Earle’s band. Denton’s Eleanor Whitmore did a beautiful job singing a couple of duets with Earle, while Chris Masterson flexed his guitar-playing muscle throughout the night.
Earle played for almost two hours, as usual. And even though it was my eighth time to see him play live, it was still fresh and significantly awesome. Through all of his trials and tribulations, Earle’s music has never suffered. It’s only continued to be great.