Justin Townes Earle‘s outdoor show at 4:45 on the Starbucks Stage is sure to be one of Saturday’s highlights, but a performance in the more intimate Music Lounge will give his heartfelt indie country an added gravity that is sure to resonate with those lucky enough to be in attendance, as well as those tuning in to hear the performance live on KEXP at 1:15 PM. The son of Steve Earle has been through some hard times, getting swept up in his father’s once-destructive lifestyle when he was touring with him in the early 90s, but now-a-days JTE has begun to find his place as a songwriter and performer, routinely delivering unforgettable performances and at the same time establishing himself as his own artist. His most recent album, 2010’s Harlem River Blues, is full feel-good Appalachian blues that further cement the younger Earle’s place in the ongoing tradition of down-home country musicians. The torch has been passed.
Earle hit the Lounge stage this afternoon mixing old bluegrass and gospel music with the “Generation X ” attitude and tattoos. “How you feelin? It’s too early for me,” Earle said as he started the set. When the band started playing it was easy to forget that the audience was in Seattle Center and not deep in the Appalachian Mountains. With just three instruments: guitar, fiddle, and stand-up bass; the band created a huge sound. Even without drums, it would be hard for anyone to not tap their feet to this music.
Simplicity is key to Justin Townes Earle’s success. The songs are relatable. Tracks about feeling like you’ve done wrong or done too much. The band makes it easy for listeners to sit back and feel the emotion behind the lyrics. During the set Earle gave a shout out to his mother saying “Now we gotta do a song for momma, cause she’s always listening.” The song “Mama’s Eyes” showcased harsh, comical and sympathetic lines such as “I am my father’s son. I’ve never known when to shut up.”
The bass really pulled the performance from great to amazing. The bass lines were always driving. Every bass slap would shake the floor and build the honky-tonk groove, sometimes building such intensity that it began to sound like a galloping horse. On slower songs, such as Mama’s Eyes” the slow and thoughtful plucks of the bass and waves of the hand swooned the audience and brought everyone into Earle’s adoring lyrics.
Some songs, particularly the ones Earle played solo, leaned more towards a gospel sound although Earle mentioned “God doesn’t want me in his house. Doesn’t mean I can’t come a knockin’ on the door.” While there were gospel songs and ballads, the set was not without its moments of badassery. Songs where he proclaims “They killed John Henry but they won’t kill me” and Earle noting that this is the first time in awhile the he has played with bandages gave this performance a very old time Western hero vibe.
The band will be playing a secret show tomorrow night at the Tractor Tavern under the name “Alabama Fingerbang.” Earle mentioned that this will be Alabama Fingerbang’s one and only performance. Earle’s latest album “Harlem River Blues” will be out on Sept. 14.