Justin Townes Earle, Pat Capocci Combo @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (04/04/12)
Pat Capocci had the task of getting the still sparse crowd in the mood for the return to Sydney of Justin Townes Earle. With a wide gulf across the dance-floor between band and audience Capocci and his combo didn’t seem to mind one bit as they fired off song after song of razor sharp rockabilly, rock n roll and texas swing. Slick and twitchingly infectious the trio don’t play with frills, instead they cut right to the core of what the music is all about – riffs, girls, cars and partying. Capocci in particular showed why he is so highly rated in the genre with impressive guitar playing, that familiar rock n roll hiccup in his voice and the looks to match the music.
Justin Townes Earle has often talked about his love of touring Australia and for our sake it isn’t hollow arse kissing. The man backs it up with numerous visits here, this being at least his fifth tour in as many years. Earle sauntered on stage with two other musicians in tow – a departure from his usual solo shows, though he has started playing with a full band in the USA and promised to bring them down to Australia soon. After a brief hello he launched into a number of tracks from the new album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now and straight away the mood was decidedly more subdued than his usual wired, restless stage persona.
It wasn’t that the songs were poorly played they just felt slightly undercooked and flat. Even between songs Earle wasn’t his usual adrenalised auctioneer self. The lack of full instrumentation, particularly the horn sections from the new record, did allow the songs to stand on their own, naked and exposed with guitars and lyrics laid bare. The sense of bitterly lost love and the many parental issues that have always populated Earle’s songwriting were in evidence, giving even more weight to the downbeat mood. Standouts from the new LP included the restrained chug of Movin’ On, the title track and Maria.
Things picked up when Earle’s sidemen left the stage for the middle section of the show and the old frontman seemed to emerge. Digging back into tracks from his earlier records there was a line drawn right through his growing career that placed the new songs in context, giving the current album’s detractors probable cause to reconsider their stance. As the set progressed the witty, self-deprecating banter began to flow. Gems included his announcing that since his last tour here he turned 30 meaning it was no longer cool to die and the propensity on the new record for “mum and dad issues” was unavoidable but a lot cheaper than therapy.
The highlights of the show came with a devastating Mama’s Eyes, a song that never fails to move an audience and reduce a room to silence. He followed that with his cover of The Replacements Can’t Hardly Wait that similarly had a unique power, lifting the mood of the crowd and carrying that feeling through to the end of the set. There were also covers of Gram Parsons and Rex’s Blues from his partial namesake Townes Van Zandt showing that he isn’t afraid to namecheck and honour his influences.
Though more understated than previous performances Earle showed that he remains a consummate performer both vocally and on guitar. He also proved that at their core the new songs aren’t as a big a stylistic shift as some have suggested and the prospect of seeing them played with a full band will be a fascinating contrast to the solo incarnation we have witnessed a number of times.