Steve Earle – Live From Austin, Texas

Another live album, but this time from way earlier in Steve’s career, just after the release of his second album, back when Steve was just a gifted country singer and none of the addictions and politics had made things all complicated.

And uncomplicated is a good way to describe the performance, just Steve and a few Dukes on basic instruments, just playing a song and then playing the next song. There’s very little nonsense. No banter or jamming or long gaps for applause. It’s a totally different kind of show from a totally different time to a totally different crowd. Totally. They play most of “Guitar Town,” then they do a great cover of “State Trooper” (by JUICE SPRINGSTEEN if you remember that or by Bruce Springsteen otherwise), then they play most of “Exit 0.” Then there are a couple encores, including lone non-album track “The Devil’s Right Hand” and that’s it. The audience is pretty muted, but certainly appreciative. Yes, Steve was just a singer from Texas at this time.

And while it’s a nice little document, aside from “State Trooper” that one needs, aside from understanding how he could omit “Someday” while playing every other song from his first album, including ballsackosaurus “Little Rock ‘N’ Roller” or how he could have had three songs about being a successful singer before he was one, like how rappers release first singles about how much money they have. A couple songs lose something for the limited available instruments – “My Old Friend the Blues” and “Think It Over,” while many  of the songs from the second album sound more interesting here, maybe because Steve hadn’t played them for quite as long as the ones from the first.

Which brings me to my closing thingajew: listening to this rote performance I really feel for musicians on touring, singing the same songs the same way over and over and over and making a pittance for it. Then if you do make it…grapes, can you imagine how many times Steve’s played “Copperhead Road” if it was on his next album and he’s still playing it in at least 2004? Steve sounds reserved here, like he’s saving his energy for a long tour just past or just ahead. “You can either get through life or you can live it,” Steve says before “Fearless Heart,” “and to live it you need two things – an inquisitive mind and a fearless heart.” Aww! And that would be all of his personality we would ever see. Now, I’m a political guy and all, but it’s refreshing to hear a show that’s just a show, before the failed efforts to end the war and elect John Kerry. It isn’t actually “better” because hearing from musicians is usually great, when it’s not realizing that Charlie Daniels thinks “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” is a true story, but he sounds innocent here, even as a man my age on all sorts of dope.

If I’d been at this show I would have been sure to yell out for “Copperhead Road” over and over. Maybe it’d give him an idea.



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