A few thoughts on Steve Earle’s performance Saturday at the Pantages Theatre:

  1. Going through his seventh divorce (while still wearing his wedding ring), Earle focused on the blues, offering several selections from this year’s blues collection, “Terraplane,” a Howlin’ Wolf tune and his own oldie “My Old Friend the Blues” from his 1986 debut “Guitar Town.”
  2. Maybe Earle was in a blue mood or the soundman thinks hearing the band is more important than hearing the lead vocals. Earle’s voice often wasn’t dynamic enough, loud enough or forceful enough.  Heck, even on the scorching rocker “The Revolution Starts Now,” if you didn’t know the familiar song, you probably wouldn’t have been able to understand the lyrics.
  3. Earle is a pretty good harmonica player, as he demonstrated on several songs.
  4. At the beginning of the two-hour set, Earle seemed like he was kind of rushing through things. But once he started talking between songs, he found his rhythm – and his funny bone. Loved the discussion about how when he walks by a long mirror he thinks he sees a reflection of his father – or Allen Ginsberg. Earle, 60, also got serious, talking about global warming, some blues history and Bernie Sanders for president.
  5. The set list contained some mandatory nuggets including “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” and some dubious choices including “Go Go Boots Are Back” and a sludgy cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.”
  6. Having the Mastersons as opening act and half of Earle’s current incarnation of the Dukes (his backup group) is a masterful move. As a duo, Chris Masterson sounded like Gary Louris and Eleanor Whitmore looked like a grownup “Annie.” The husband and wife brought humor, warmth and homey musicality, making them a perfect opening act.  Later, her fiddle and his guitar were integral parts of the sound of Earle’s band.
  7. During the opening set, Masterson told a story about having performed “Good Luck Charm,” the title of the duo’s current album, last year at the Minnesota Zoo when they opened for Earle. Masterson said a concertgoer emailed immediately, saying that the group shouldn’t be performing a political song. Masterson fired back via email: “Dude, you’re at a Steve Earle show. It’s all political.”
  8. “I Thought You Should Know,” from 2004, is a terrific song. Earle delivered it with a hint of R&B swagger. But it’s waiting for a singer with a killer voice to cover it.
  9. Highlights included “Someday,” which Earle sang with fire; “Acquainted with the Wind,” on which Earle and the Dukes rocked out; “South Nashville Blues,” the first song Earle ever wrote; and, of course, the aforementioned “I Thought You Should Know,” “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road.” 

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