You never know what you're going to get when you walk into a Justin Townes Earle show. It could be a rowdy get-together or a laid back evening of sleepy numbers. No matter what, though, it's always good.
Fitzgerald's, which has been Earle's stomping grounds his last few trips to Houston, paid host to the show. Pulling a decent crowd for a Thursday night, albeit not near a sell-out, Earle had no problem keeping the crowd entertained throughout the night.
Earle has a history with Houston, as it's where his dad (Steve) got his feet wet in the industry playing along the side the likes of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt (notice Justin's middle name). While the younger Earle doesn't have nearly the amount of ties to the city as his father does, it still serves as a special place for him to play. This was quite apparent last night with his hour-and-a-half performance for the best and most attentive crowd of the year.
The night started with a solo set from Houston's own Adam Bricks. I've always thought that it wouldn't be long before Bricks found the right crowd, and with people at full attention shouting out requests and whistling and catcalling after every song, I think he just might've found it.
Bricks' set, which featured just him and a guitar, was a good one from the get-go. He has a knack for performing and the songs to boot. His Springsteen-meets-Dylan sound had people eating from his hands by the end of it, gaining a wealth of new fans in the process. The only thing he was missing from the set was a merch table where he would've assuredly walked out of Fitz with a few bucks in his wallet.
By the time Earle hit the stage, close to 10:30, the crowd was ready and warmed up. You could tell people wanted to get rowdy, but that never happened. Earle came out somewhat lackadaisical, but never lacking his crack wit he's become famous for. His banter was nearly as entertaining as his songs, which might've been what was keeping everyone closed tightly to the stage.
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Not that his performance was bad, he just seemed a bit lazy with his approach. He also had a hard time remembering the lyrics early on in the set. "People tell me I don't have a great memory, but I think I just smoke too much pot," said Earle after an early flub, "but you tell me if could remember all the songs off of six records." To be fair, I can't even remember the lyrics to my most favorite songs.
You could tell, though, that Earle didn't care if he made a mistake. He had no problem stopping the show and restarting a song if an early blunder was made which certainly happened on a couple of occasions. "I'm not so vain that I'm scared to fuck up in public. I am, after all, human," said Earle before introducing "Harlem River Blues," one of the more raucous tunes of the evening.
But it was those little fuck up's that made this set so charming. It made it seem more like Earle was playing for a group of friends in a living room rather than to a loaded upstairs at Fitzgerald's. Especially when he took the act solo for a few songs at both the beginning of the set and for a chunk in the middle. His take on his spiritual father Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues" was one of the best songs of the night, captivating the crowd from front to back. An even brighter take on Billy Joe Shaver's "Georgia on a Fast Train" was also a crowd-pleaser.
While the energy in the room might've been asking for more of an electric set, the laid-back vibe of the performance was a welcome one. The room was given a chance to hear some of Earle's quieter material, and I don't think anyone was complaining. Although the crowd started to wane towards the end of the evening, those of us that decided to stay were treated to an amazing finish that featured his own "Rogers Park" and an extended take on The Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait" which served as the cherry on top of an already stand-out set.
Earle's just got some cool thing going on with him that makes it hard not to pay attention to what he has to say. And that's why I think most people stayed enthralled throughout. Take out the banter, and all you would've had was a Thursday night full of sleepy songs. Extremely good sleepy songs, but sleepy just the same.
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Personal Bias: I love everything Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt, so it was only a matter of time before I fell in love with Justin Townes Earle. Once I discovered him, I haven't stopped listening.
The Crowd: And the award for the most attentive crowd of the year goes to... except that one annoying girl that decided she was going to yammer away to her boyfriend during the quiet numbers. She eventually got told. She also eventually shut up.
Overheard In The Crowd: Tons of song requests. Which is something that's always been annoying to me. To Earle too, apparently. Early on, when a belligerent fan started shouting his requests, Earle responded with, "Don't tell me what to do, I do this every night." While he said it with a smile on his face, there was also some degree of seriousness.
Random Notebook Dump: The Houston music scene loves them some Justin Townes Earle. Many friendly faces that I usually see behind a guitar or a microphone were in the building. It's always good to see so many musicians supporting the music scene, local or national (in this case, both). It's the only way to keep it going.