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Steve Earle with the Dukes and Duchesses (featuring Allison Moorer)

Steve Earle (guitar/harmonica/banjo/mandolin/bouzouki/vocals), Kelly Looney (bass/vocals), Chris Masterson (guitar/vocals), Allison Moorer (guitar/piano/accordion/vocals), Will Rigby (drums), Eleanor Whitmore (violin/alto guitar/vocals)

Based In:
New York, NY


Americana, country,, bluegrass, folk, folk rock


The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Concert Date:
July 31, 2011


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Steve Earle performs at the Kent Stage with the Dukes and Duchesses (featuring Allison Moorer)

Rating: 7 out of 10



August 5, 2011


Steve Earle: The Kent Stage, 7/31/11

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Steve Earle perfroms at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio with the Dukes and Duchesses featuring Allison Moorer. Damn, that's a mouthful. (l-r) Eleanor Whitmore, Chris Masterson, Steve Earle, Kelly Looney, Allison Moorer. Barely visible in back, Will Rigby. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


Steve Earle. He’s undeniably a legend, at least among the relatively small portion of the music-listening public that favors Americana. His early albums, with hits like “Guitar Town,” “Hillbilly Highway,” “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” “The Devil’s Right Hand,” and “Copperhead Road,” marked him as a great songwriter. With his blend of old-school outlaw country sensibility and rock attitude he helped forge the emerging genre of Americana, what some have called “too rock for country and too country for rock ‘n roll.” The definition of Americana has expanded significantly since then to include more folk, bluegrass and roots rock elements, but that old core became what can today be described as So without even knowing it, Steve Earle helped invent not one but two genres, one strangely encompassing the other.

Earle had spent much of his life high on one thing or another, and he went to jail in the early 90’s on heroin and firearms charges. While incarcerated he kicked the stuff and came out rejuvenated. His albums from that point have built on the talent that was formerly evident, expanding on his little-guy ethic, adding ever more complex lyrical structure and relying on broader and broader influences. As the genre of Americana has expanded, so too has the range of Mr. Earle’s own music, now spanning fourteen albums. This has yielded one of the broadest, most varied—yet consistently high-quality—catalogues of any artist of his generation, with influences ranging from rockabilly to bluegrass to grunge to reggae to folk to blues and beyond. It’s truly a marvel that one man has been able to draw so many disparate threads together to create so much engaging music.

Earle performs a wide range of music on a wide range of instruments. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand therein lies the problem. Because in Earle’s latest stop at the Kent Stage on July 31, most of these albums were represented by at least one song, but the greatest bulk by far was taken up by tracks from his latest effort, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. And while that album contains a number of very good songs, it is nowhere near as great as some of his past efforts. In fact, as pointed out in the No Surf Review of this album, several of the tracks, especially “God Is God” and “Every Part of Me” are just plain bad and should never be performed in public. It’s understandable that artists touring in support of an album would want to feature a large selection from that album, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the artist’s other works. If people like your music in general, they will buy the latest release, and as No Surf writer Alan “Pender” Pendergrass put it “At some point you’ve just got to realize the new album isn’t what people are coming to hear.”

The other problem is that even more of the set was cut into by Earle’s backing band, the Dukes and the Duchesses (featuring Allison Moorer). One song was sung by bassist Kelly Loony and another by Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore (who perform as the Mastersons when not backing Earle). While its nice to see a principal giving some props to his supporting cast, neither performance was particularly notable. Even worse, Allison Moorer, Steve’s wife, took an entire section of the set for herself, playing several songs on her own just before intermission, when Earle was entirely absent from the stage.

Now, I’m sure Ms. Moorer is a very nice lady and all, and it’s understandable that she’d want to go on tour with her husband seeing as they have an 18-month old son, but Earle’s shows would be much better if she just kept to the background and played piano and accordion. She has a decent voice, but just simply doesn’t have anywhere near the talent her husband does. Worst of all, the one truly good song she does have to her credit—“Alabama Song” (which is really just a reworking of “Girl From the North Country” or “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”)—was one she chose not to do.

The selections she did perform where boring at best and highly unfortunate at worst. Most enigmatic of all was her version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” She explained that she started singing it in response to George W. Bush’s administration, and specifically the invasion of Iraq. This led Pender—no hippie antiwar protester but neither a neocon nut job—to call her downright racist for trying to equate slavery and hundreds of years of systematic racial repression to any misdeeds on Bush’s part. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say that it is a well-meaning but less-than-well-thought-out musical comparison. It would be fair to say that everything she touches turns to shit.

Earle duets with wife Allison Moorer, whose involvement in his shows is less-than-scene-stealing, at least not in a positive way. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Now that I’ve pointed out the less-than-stellar parts of the performance, let me just say that it was still Steve Earle, and Steve Earle is awesome. There’s no doubt that even with all the complicating factors this show was worth the price of admission, and it’s always worth seeing him whenever he comes through town. Not only is Earle a great songwriter, but he’s a great performer with great range on a great number of instruments, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki. It’s a definite pleasure just watching the band’s roadie try to keep up with the constant instrument changes.

Earle led off the night with several selections from his new album, including “Waiting For the Sky to Fall,” “Little Emperor,” “The Gulf of Mexico,” and “Molly-O.” These are all among the best of the songs on I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive and it was a good start to the show. The a cappella beginning to “The Gulf of Mexico” was particularly well done, although the latter part of the song was over-arranged. It ended with a very Earlesque statement of “Fuck BP.”

After the unthrilling “Every Part of Me,” he played several favorites, including “City of Immigrants,” “I Feel Alright,” “Someday,” and “Jerusalem.” This last was accompanied by a speech designed to temper the song’s oddly blithe attitude, noting how much blood has been spilled over questions about how to worship the God of Abraham, and noting the seemingly intractable problems the song glosses over. Although somewhat monotheist-centric, the commentary at least contained a valid criticism. Shit. I just realized I’m more liberal than Steve Earle. Oh well. Life goes on.

Unfortunately, so did the set, because it was at this point that Moorer took over, first accompanying Steve on the at-best so-so duet “Heaven or Hell,” and then with several songs of her own. As previously discussed, her portion of the concert was frankly horrible in comparison to her husband’s works, and was met about evenly in the crowd by polite applause and those who just plain walked out to beat the rush to the bathroom or the bar. I’m fairly sure most people there would have paid extra not to hear her sing. After just over an hour, the band took a well-deserved break.

Coming back to the stage, Earle hit it hard, leading off with one of his most recognizable songs, “Copperhead Road.” This was followed by a selection of old favorites mixed with more tracks from the new album. The older songs included “Galway Girl,” “Taneytown,” and the screwed-over miner couplet “Harlan Man” and “The Mountain.” These two were accompanied by a speech about how he wanted to play them because he was in Ohio and the songs focused on a man who lived in Kentucky, proving he’s also very liberal with his geography. Highlights among the new songs included the bluesy “Meet Me in the Alleyway”—during which Earle strutted around stage while playing harmonica and singing with a highly distorted voice—and the Emmy-winning “This City,” for which he brought out the trademark “This Machine Floats” guitar belonging to his Treme character Harley. The set closed with the power duo of “Hardcore Troubadour” and “The Revolution Starts Now.”

Although several selections from his newest album were extremely well done, Earle was at his best when performing his well-loved classics. While not perfect, the show was definitely a fine demonstration of Mr. Earle's many talents. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

The band then came back for not one, but two encores. The first was a trio consisting of the mellow “I Am a Wanderer” from the latest album, followed by the classics “Hillbilly Highway” and “Guitar Town.” The second included Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” which was a somewhat surprising but welcome addition. For the last selection, he played “The Unrepentant,” which given his always-defiant attitude was an appropriate signoff despite its relatively slow pace. The show ended with Earle’s trademark raised-fist salute.

Overall, this show was much like Earle’s latest album: showing glimpses of his brilliance but also burdened by the weight of his inability to self-edit. Several songs that shouldn’t have been included on the album certainly shouldn’t be included in the live shows. While the concert was more than long enough, the argument could easily be made that including songs like “God Is God,” “Every Part of Me,” “Heaven or Hell” and older album cuts like “My Old Friend the Blues” and “Taneytown” at the expense of five-star tracks like “The Devil’s Right Hand,” “Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough),” “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” or a slew of others could have been the wrong choice. And Allison Moorer really just needs to stay in the background where she can’t do any damage. Still, it was a show well worth seeing and No Surf looks forward to our next opportunity to experience Mr. Earle’s abundant talent.



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For a taste of Steve Earle in concert, buy Live From Austin, TX or Live at Montreux on Amazon!
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