Monday, August 5, 2013

The "Low Highway" Comes to Wisconsin with its Message of Truth, Hope & Solidarity

I wish I could of brought with me last night, August 3, 2013, to the Mastersons and Steve Earle & the Dukes show at the Barrymore Theater in Madison WI, anyone who had ever asked me "who is Steve Earle?" or more likely the feigned "Oh yeah, Steve Earle. What does he do again?" Better yet, if I had the dictatorial power of say, for instance, an overreaching Gov. Walker, I would have ordered my capitol security to forcibly deliver those cracker barrel bonobos on sites like which provide space for social media concert "reviews" whose users use the opportunity to spew their ridiculously ignorant invectives at artists like Earle (e.g. The review by a member of the Le Leche League or perhaps a fan of one of Steve's early side projects, The Supersuckers: "...steve earle sucked. was deeply disappointed...didnt stay for the whole thing...broke my heart with his suckiness" and apparently the review by a fashionista: "...I was shocked to see the way these guys dressed, like slobs actually..Steve Earle wore a hot denim long sleeve shirt and was sweating profusely by the end of the show. Maybe drop a few pounds would help. The rest of the band wore dirty tee shirts and jeans...".

"But what could Bozos like those have possibly learned?", I hear you say. Well for one thing, they would have learned that Steve and his band work long hours and that he is genuinely proud of being a 58 year old Dad to a beautiful 3 year old son named John Henry. They would have also learned that Steve is also very proud of his latest version of the Dukes, which gave him every reason to be proud last night.

Although some friends kid me that I some times lose perspective in my music reviews. That my friendship with an artist or band may affect my reviews. That I am more of a cheerleader than a critic sometimes... Oh Hell, I could accept all that were it not for those disturbing images of our former President in his prep school male cheerleader uniform looking, well, unleader like, to put it politely. I admit it. I may be influenced by the fact that Steve and the Dukes, despite having just performed some 3 plus hours (including the Mastersons masterly opening set, a set introduced by Steve himself, no less) waited in a friendly and patient, if not somewhat drained manner, to meet every last one of the couple hundred fans who had lined up to get something inscribed, take a photo or just share a word with one of their favorite hardcore troubadours. I know this for a fact because my son and I were the second to the last in that line and did not leave the theater until the early hours of the next day.

Before I forget, let me say this about the venue, the Barrymore Theater is the venerable funky matron of the Madison music scene. You can keep your "Majestic moments" because not only is the Barrymore one of Mr. Earle's favorite places to perform (you could tell by how comfortable he was and how much fun he was having by his performance, the best i have personally witnessed) but the Barrymore is truly the theater in Madison where things get real. My personal thanks to the incredibly cool staff that served my son pop long after the show and concession stand closed. This kept his incredibly dehydrated father from passing out after a very long day including extended sampling following our tour of the Capital Brewery in Middleton.

But whoa, I get way ahead of myself. To begin the beguine, the day did not get off to a very auspices start. Being somewhat of a considerate Dad myself, I did not want to subject my 18 year old son to riding bitch on the back of my bike for the four plus hour trip from Minneapolis to Madison. Not because of some ignorant sexist notion but rather because my son is a rider himself and I know from personal experience how awkward and uncomfortable it is when you are accustomed to being the operator. So I went onto one of those William Shatner sponsored websites to negotiate a deal on hotel and car rental. While the hotel part worked out nicely if not ironically, we got a very nice room in brand spanking new chain hotel in a quiet corporate office park about 4 miles from the gig, for $68. Although the price was right, the surroundings did seem somewhat hypocritical, being the "Low Highway" tour and all. It should come as no surprise to any of my fellow travelers on the "Low Highway" that corporate America would not settle being out negotiated and absolutely raped me on the rental car. In its continuing war on the lower classes, corporate America, specifically the rental car agencies have divined that if you use a debit card instead of a credit card to pay the security deposit the 3 day rate goes from not $77, not $124 but to $205. By comparison, the Japanese occupation of Nanking seems like just a bad date.

So after riding the light rail out to the airport to pick up my overpriced economy sized nerd mobile (in retrospect I should have taken my 1973 Boattail Riveria, which even at 8 mpg probably would have not cost much more than my Taj MaHertz rental car)it was off to the Home of the Jolly Green Giant to pick up my boy. My son seemed somewhat relieved that I was spiriting him out of his mother's adopted place of residence which was setting up for the "Giant Days" parade across the street. The fact that the local police chief (Wiggum) and next door neighbor had parked his ramshackle camper trailer in their driveway only added to the festivities. Before taking off, my son and I gathered in his mother's kitchen where I gave my customary pep talk that I give before all road trips: a mixture of John Belushi's road trip speech from Animal House mixed with some "physical" inspiration ala former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes (i.e. breaking watch crystal on my forehead, ripping brim off baseball cap etc.) I ended with the customary taking a knee to deliver the Lord's er I mean Santorum's Prayer: "God grant me the strength to gain weight so that I don't blow away even in the most mild of breezes.." at which point we placed our hands over each others hands breaking with a raucous "Yea God!"

Before long we had cleared the state line and had successfully escaped to Wisconsin. After a couple of hours we relented to the Culver's Custard billboards which constantly bombard you on I94 for a couple of Butterburgers and banana malts. While eating lunch I took advantage of the free copy of the La Crosse newspaper only to be confronted by a very troubling story on the front page about the sentencing of a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student on a ridiculously reduced charge. The troubling part was that the perp, a wrestling team member, got off with a hand slap for what in reality was a criminal sexual assault on a fellow male student using a lint roller. (Please fill in the double entendres yourselves.)

With enough saturated fat under our belts to clog the plumbing of...(e.g. UW-LaCrosse student?)it was off to Middleton home of the famous Club Tavern (subject of Alejandro Escovedo's song "Dear Head on the Wall") and home of the Capital Brewery, makers of one of this country's finest seasonal brews, the doppelbock Autumnal Fire, where we had reservations for the 3 pm tour. Arriving one-half hour early, (I know, I know, my work colleagues are reaching for their smelling salts to fight off their incredulity) we took advantage of the beautiful beer/hospitality garden and the wonderful weather. Following the tour and complimentary beer sampling I was able to finagle a couple of 4 packs of my favorite flavor which technically is impossible as sales of said doppelbock does not officially begin until September and ends in December.

Opening Act:  The Mastersons:  Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore

The husband and wife duo who also comprise 1/2 of the Dukes.  Performed material from their debut cd "Birds Fly South".  Beautiful harmonies mixed with stellar playing.  Ms. Whitmore had me forgeting all about Lucinda on "You're Still Standing There" from Dukes set and Chris Masterson can do it all.  A nuanced, subtle monster on guitar.  Thoroughly enjoyable set by two very talented artists.  I am looking forward to their next disc.

Steve Earle & the Dukes Set List Barrymore Theater 8/3/2013

The Low Highway
21st Century Blues
Calico County
Hard-Core Troubadour
I Thought You Should Know
That All You Got?
 Love s Gonna Blow My Way
 After Mardi Gras
 Pocket Full Of Rain
 This City
 You're Still Standing There
 Burnin It Down
Guitar Town
Copperhead Road
Warren Hellman's Banjo
Billie & Bonnie
(The Mountain ?)
The Galway Girl
Down the Road Pt II
Remember Me
City Of Immigrants
Harlan Man
Nobody But You / Continental Trailways Blues
The Revolution Starts Now

From the opening strains of "The Low Highway" to the closing roar of fuzz guitar on "The Revolution Starts Now" Steve and the Dukes came to play and were invested in their performance.  From the brilliant lyrics of "21st Century Blues" to the meth scourge of  "Calico County" there is little doubt that the mantle of most intelligent and relevant singer songwriter has been passed to Mr. Earle.  I don't think I have ever enjoyed myself at a concert as much as when they played "Hard-Core Troubadour" only to be followed with a mesmerizing a cappella incantation that is "I Thought You Should Know".  When Steve slammed his mike stand down at the end of "I Thought You Should Know" indicating he had nailed it, it was at this point that most in the audience realized they were in for something really special.

 While the setlist was clearly meant to showcase "The Low Highway" which in its low key but perceptive manner may be his most realized work yet.  When he was walking over to the piano to play "Pocketful of Rain", one of the album's quirky but charming sleepers,  someone in the audience yelled out a song request to which Steve replied firmly, but in good nature "we're only 20 minutes into the show I think I am still in control of my set list".  "Pocketful of Rain" is one of those unique little oddities on an album that for some strange reason really ties the album together and almost defines it by being off topic (Tom Waits comes to mind.)  Steve made it even more memorable by telling a story of back in his drinking days when he got really tight he thought he could speak Spanish really well but he really couldn't.  Steve also observed that there is something about New Orleans that makes normally sane individuals think they are a piano player.  (Which brings up one of my pet peeves:  Would someone please kill Hugh Laurie before he ruins America's greatest art form and shame on you Allen Touissant for encouraging him.)

to be continued...

I will never forget when August and I were walking up the aisle a good 10-15 minutes after the show had ended and making eye contact with a couple of fans still sitting in awe in their seats and mouthing at each other and us "Was that the best f____king concert you have ever seen!"  We could only wag our heads in agreement.

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