Aftermath: Justin Townes Earle, Rowdy Songs for a Staid Mucky Duck
Photos by Craig Hlavaty
One of the saddest moments in the human emotional pantheon has to be the moment when the newness of something wears off and all that is left is grim utility. With technology, it's the first time that expensive piece of shit you bought turns into "this stupid piece of shit" and stalls or freezes during use. For cars, it's when you get that first note in the mail reminding you that the shiny thing outside your house is your albatross for five years. In relationships, it's that point in time when those initial jitters melt away and what's left is teamwork and bedrock. You know, when you stop looking at each other with a dumb fucking grin all the time and the handholding becomes a chore. "Sweet Lord, this again?" Aftermath doesn't have kids yet, but he wonders if at some instance parents look down at their five-year old pouring paint on the new cellphone and honestly think, "How many more years of this crap again?" Whenever Aftermath gets into a band or artist, the thought of the end of the honeymoon always scares us to death. We have already gone through that with countless musical obsessions, sadly. When a new album gets announced you don't do hours of online scouring for bootlegs anymore, and when they come to town you opt to do something else instead of blow booze money at the merch table. Aftermath has spent two years enamored with the work of Justin Townes Earle. We had been longtime fans of his dad since we could remember and, with the younger Earle being closer to our age, we took a bite and dug what he was laying down. It was Hank Sr., Bob Wills, Townes Van Zandt and a twinge of his father all rolled into a tattooed lanky package.
Friday's Earle gig at the Mucky Duck was at least our sixth in the past year and a half, and we still haven't gotten sick of hearing or seeing the dude live. Each show is different then the last because he is one of those artists who in essence is very much still in his creative infancy. Things are still being tried out, ripped up and started over again. He can play by himself like the last gig opening for the Pogues at the House Of Blues in October, or he can run with a fiddle player and an upright bassist like on Friday. Either way, you get an Earle show. A lot has been said about Mucky Duck not being the most hospitable to rowdy indie honky-tonk kids, but then again shows like this only happen maybe once every six months. The rest of the time the venue is an excellent place for singer-songwriters and bluegrass pluckers. You can blame people like Robert Ellis for making us wanna get rowdy while we hear a Buck Owens cover. At one point on Friday, we were part of a loud throng of people hanging on every pick of the trio onstage, while most of the crowd around sat alternately stunned and bewildered that we knew all of Earle's songs, including the words of cover tunes. The new work that Earle promised us would have a gospel and prewar blues feel was instead loud and hilarious, lyrically getting way more precise and conversational. There's one he debuted about coming home to his fiancé from being on tour which the crowd dug, and then there was "Nobody Waiting On Me," which was the exact opposite. If there is going to be a gospel patina, it's going to come in the studio versions, because these songs bare with fiddleman Josh Headley and bassist Bryn Davies are absolutely rocking. "Mama's Eyes," from last year's Midnight At The Movies, got our trademark man-mist going. Half our party kept whipping our body around to inspect for that salty ocular discharge and they found it.
A lot of times watching Earle among older sedentary people, you wanna scream for them to wake up because these songs should be vital to everyone. We still can't imagine people not singing along if they know the words or standing up and clapping at any live musical performance that warrants it. The reason us younger cats take to this so much is that his content is very much now for us. Earle jumped into our consciousness at the exact time we and everyone his age reached those second set of wonder years. His music fits our reality, and even better, it sounds like it comes from a time in history we wish we could have lived through. A land before cellphones, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, when if you wanted to know something about your potential mate you had to ask. There was no album of public pictures to scour. As long as the guy doesn't start using drum machines, Auto-Tune, or opening up for the Counting Crows, Aftermath is sure he will always be a part of the loud group of jerks in back screaming "Earle" like we are at a Slayer concert.
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