Steve Earle and The Dukes and The Mastersons
Guitars, Music

Steve Earle & The Dukes (& The Mastersons) at The Barbican, London

Last night (July 29, 2018) the best came last.

The main set ended and after a first encore (Ben McCullough and Dixieland), Steve came back on stage alone for the second and final encore.

He started picking two chords (which later turned out to be the intro to Girl on The Mountain) back and forth on his Martin, a little aggressive and scrappy but deliberate and convincing as always. After a show that was light on stage talk he opened up and let it flow: during this tour he decided what he’ll be doing over the next few years and he wanted to tell us all about it.

First on his list, and currently work in progress, is an album of Guy Clark covers, a strange coincidence for me as I’d been listening to L.A. Freeway on repeat after being reminded of it during a sound check at the Beer and Bluegrass Festival in Dorset where I played the day before. I can’t wait to hear it.

As if to prove my point, Steve then said that he knows how to record an album that plays to his audience (reference the album mentioned above) blindfolded, but we need something different now.

His next project, he announced, is due to come out in 2020, to coincide with the next US presidential election. Cue an eruption of cheers (and a few boos) – at least as much of that as you can expect at the London music venue, the brutalist but civilised Barbican. I was excited. I’d been longing for this – 80’s Bono? Bruce? Where have you been?

Steve came clear upfront, he’s a Bernie guy and fought for it, he lost, but will carry on. He doesn’t care if you disagree; some of his friends are ‘red hat’ guys, and that’s ok, they’ve had a crappy time, maybe some of them voted for the other way last time around but they’re fed up now. It doesn’t matter because the problem is that it’s all become “too goddamn shitty”.

This was the cathartic moment I had been waiting for. It’s what you don’t get from a podcast and what will always keep me coming back to people like Steve, who may not be the best singer but he lets you inside, show you he feels the same as you, sees the shittiness even if you may think his life is better than yours because he’s written a few hit songs. And then he washes away all the grit with some simple chords and melody that make you feel warm inside, like it’s all ok.

The rest of the show was excellent with the exception of bad sound (too much bass which made the vocals hard to hear) for the first few songs, an issue quickly resolved by the seasoned Nashville cat of a bass player who intimidated the sound engineer into a quick fix with a few intimidating gestures, an amusing ‘Spinal Tap’ style sketch if you caught it. The Mastersons (also the support act as a duo) on fiddle and vocals and electric guitar were exceptional – Eleanor Whitmore only sang one song but is a star. I wondered why anyone still plays covers of Hey Joe, but I enjoyed every minute of their version. The tribute to the fallen firefighters in California was touching.  As an aside, I thought of the Dixie Chicks gig in March 2003 at the Shepherds Bush Empire where they (at least temporarily) sunk their career after saying they were embarrassed about having George W. Bush as their president. Seems quaint now.

Thank you Steve, I needed that.

By Luca


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