Justin Townes Earle – Live at The Factory; April 4, 2012

‘My head feels like a rubber eraser.’

As live gig introductions go, it’s no ‘Hello Cleveland!’ but it was one of the more original.

Then again we’d never expect Justin Townes Earle to be anything less than upfront about where he is at any given time. So to see him performing whilst reeling from jet-lag was just part of the JTE deal.

So what did that mean for the show? I won’t say it wasn’t noticeable. The tempo on some of the songs ebbed and flowed with Justin’s energy levels (particularly on ‘One More Night in Brooklyn’), and the second last song, ‘When You Walk Out On Me’ was just plain out of tune because I don’t think JTE had his earpiece in. Then again, I’ve seen him perform it before and it’s not an easy song to get right at the best of times.

Bottom line is, it didn’t make a pinch of difference to the overall experience. This guy is the real deal, bundling up all his musical influences and ****ed up experiences into a package of raw and powerful songcraft, catching rhythms and a whole bunch of that natural Southern charm.

Justin Townes Earle - Live at the Factory, 2012 -IMAGE

Justin Townes Earle - Live at the Factory, 2012

Working a bit of the geek chic this time, with a slightly oversized plaid jacket, glasses, the hair longer and not slicked back, this was a more vulnerable looking JTE than the last time I saw him at the Basement. And if you’ve listened to the new album Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, that seems entirely appropriate. It’s been reviewed as ‘searingly honest’ and he himself refers to it as being chock full of ‘Mom and Dad issues’. But this is the guy who puts himself out there, as we’ve said.

Whilst he started the set with the upbeat ‘Memphis in the Rain’ and ‘Look the Other Way’ from the latest release, there was no attempt to reproduce the slick Memphis sound which dominates the recording. Considering this tour is centred on Bluesfest, the more pared back support of acoustic lead/mandolin and double-bass was the middle ground between solo and full band and it worked fine for this purpose. Although this may change in the future with Justin stating an intention to tour Australia again soon with said full band.

Still finding his stride, ‘One More Night in Brooklyn’ suffered slightly as I’ve mentioned, but then he gained his footing with ‘Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving’ from The Good Life and the gorgeous ‘Rogers Park’ from Harlem River Blues, arguably his most successful album to date. He swung back to the new album for ‘Maria’, headed to the deep south to fry some Sunday morning chicken with ‘Ain’t Waitin”, then examined some more Dad issues on ‘Am I That Lonely Tonight’ before letting loose with a cover of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘I Been Burning Bad Gasoline’ which blew the whole bunch of us away. It looks like it’s a favourite of his to perform live and we lapped it up.

By this stage he was back in his solo element and trucking along nicely with ‘South Georgia Sugar Babe’ and ‘They Killed John Henry’ before one of my personal highlights ‘Unfortunately, Anna’ where he lets us in to a sense of helplessness as he pleads “All these years you’ve been waitin’ for the world to change / but unfortunately, Anna / Unfortunately, Anna / it’s you, that needs to change.” You know those moments when the whole crowd is in the song with you? That.

Capitalising on the love, the band jumped back on stage to get into ‘Harlem River Blues’. The ensemble by this stage was much tighter, with JTE’s clawhammer style driving the shuffle beat and kicking the whole room into a new gear.

This would have been the perfect launchpad for the title track of the new album, however it was let down by the double-bass’s dominance which created a buzzing that overpowered the song in parts.

Balance was regained with ‘Christchurch Woman’ before another of my personal favourites: ‘Mama’s Eyes’. “I am my father’s son…but I’ve got my Mama’s eyes.” Clearly I wasn’t alone in my appreciation.

He finished off with ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ and ‘Movin’ On’ before returning for a patchy, but brilliant encore.

I’ve already mentioned ‘When You Walk Out On Me’, the only JTE song in the final three. But wrapped around that were two wonderful performances. He started with (of course) Townes van Zandt’s ‘Rex’s Blues’ and finished with Gram Parsons’ ‘My Uncle’.

Both were played with the respect Justin affords all of his heroes and the humility to resist fiddling with the formula too much. And both were just superb – especially the deep sadness and underlying determination of the young man wanting to avoid the Vietnam draft in ‘My Uncle’. It’s such a sweet, sad song, the kind at which Parsons was expert, and Justin channelled just enough of that sweetness to leave me, at least, spellbound.

So as you imagine me shuffling amongst happy hipsters towards the Factory door, here’s a clip of Justin doing the Lightnin’ Hopkins song. It gives a good sense of his stage presence, his wit and also his raw playing talent.

Justin Townes Earle singing Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘I Been Burning Bad Gasoline’ live:

And if anyone had issues with the jet lag, Justin did mention you should Google ‘Justin Townes Earle live at KEXP’ to get a sense of perspective…hi-jinx warning…

Meanwhile – I’m heading out in about an hour to see his Dad.

Vanguard Roulette Part 2: Darren Jack and Ray Beadle Live – October 14, 2011

This was the second shot of my game of Vanguard Roulette, where I pick a number of acts I know nothing about and go along for the ride.

The night after discovering Boy Outside, I was back at the Vanguard for Australian bluesmen Darren Jack and Ray Beadle.

Beadle was supposedly the support, but as I tweeted when he left the stage, he left Jack with a lot of work to do.

Looking for all the world as if he were fresh out of Chicago (all natty hat, sharp outfit and smooth styling), Beadle is astonishing. And a little research shows why. He’s been around the traps, playing with BB King’s house band for a time for starters. I believe his list of credits and associations is pretty illustrious. So I guess that gives a sense of the quality we’re referring to here. There would be loads of people who know a lot more about him than I. He’s been a regular on the festival circuit and has his own touring band from what I can gather. But on the night I saw him, it was just him and his guitar. My favourite kind. Although there were backing tracks to help create a fuller sound when needed.

Listening to him now, it’s clear he comfortably straddles all kinds of blues but for this show he tended more toward soul blues, with funk and jazz in the mix. He did his own stuff as well as a little George Benson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. And what a vocalist. His voice is perfectly suited to those sorts of songs – a higher register that also set me in mind of Harry Connick Jr. It’s a smooth, clear and rich sound and he has lovely control.

I’m not qualified to critique his guitar work, but it’s well above your average player in terms of technical skill and the use of the woodwork for rhythms and other effects. I’ve known other guitarists like that and I love what they can create out of what is essentially a wooden box. It’s exquisite to watch.

And he’s one of those genuinely likeable guys. Slick, confident, a smile at the ready and that true showman’s style.

He also knows when to stop. I admire great musicians who love what they do and can pick up a riff and run with it. But I get incredibly annoyed when a solo becomes a marathon of selfishness. It bores me rigid. Thankfully, Ray Beadle gets it. He’ll chase a riff in a couple of directions, which are usually incredible adventures and most rewarding, but he doesn’t sacrifice the structure of the song. He gets back to the job at hand and keeps his audiences engaged. And credit to both he and Jack – and Boy Outside for that matter – they also know when to end the song.

With an ending.

Don’t get me started (but I’m looking at you, Ben Harper)…

Darren Jack is out and about promoting his new album Better Place and he’s close to the whole package. He’s got the looks, and he’s a very talented player. The write-ups refer to his voice as powerful. That’s not a word I would have used. But it’s good.

Like Beadle, Jack also has that genuineness and self-confidence of a seasoned showman. It’s a pleasure listening to guys like him who get that they’re good and are truly glad you’ve come to see them without being self-deprecating about it. Whilst modesty can be very endearing, those who accept their talent and make no apologies for it are quite a refreshing change in a self-conscious world.

By any standards, Jack is a great player. I understand he does do some acoustic but this set was entirely electric, with the traditional setup of drums, electric bass and keyboards in back. The style starts with classic electric blues, but also melds into blues rock. It’s the popular side of the genre and it’s excellent. Although there were a few moments where I thought Stevie Ray Vaughan was being channelled, so there’s some bite and edge as well. He’s undoubtedly accomplished.

And I love those little moments that show how into the music they are: a couple of times, the drummer had to pull them back so they could fit some lyrics in after Jack had gone out too hard from the gates. They’re nice moments – real and raw.

I mentioned earlier that I would not have called his voice powerful. From what I can tell, it emanates from his head and throat, so it lacks depth and hence power. But it’s a perfectly serviceable blues voice and bottom line is you forgive him for it – just like you forgive someone like Eric Clapton or Mark Knopfler for not being the greatest vocalists of their time. I’m currently listening back to ‘You Choose’ and ‘Ways of a Man’ and I’ve just realised he reminds me a little of Shane Pacey from the Bondi Cigars.

Meanwhile, Jack’s band was tight and very talented. All seasoned, all disciplined and they ran like a well-oiled machine. Unusual setup with them entirely on Jack’s left and him off to his stage right. Not used to seeing a frontman not at the front. Overall, it was an excellent blues show – and those who love it got what they came for. I really enjoyed it.

I’m afraid my photos were entirely rubbish – grainy at best, so here are a couple of links to learn more about Darren Jack and Ray Beadle.