Last Night: Steve Earle At Cactus Music

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Steve Earle Cactus Music May 3, 2011

"We used to make records for girls but now we make them for nerds," says Steve Earle as he situates his instrument before jumping into Hank Williams Sr.'s "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," the title of his new album and book.

He's talking about his Record Store Day releases that came out on April 16, which saw a decidedly "hairier" crowd snapping up his latest vinyl single.

We're at Cactus Music, scrunched into the corner for one of the best-attended in-stores we can remember in the store's recent history, since probably the last Steve Earle Cactus appearance at the record back in May 2009, give or take a few New West showcases.

The crowd is sipping free Saint Arnold's beer and settling in to hear Earle describe his new album, the storyline of that new book, and the nature of touring these days with a wife and new child toddling along.

Opening with "Waitin' For the Sky," Earle begins doing that stage stomp he does so grandly and forcefully, kicking in time with the music to a backbeat only he can hear. You don't hear that on his albums, because he leaves that blank for you to fill in yourself.

"The Gulf of Mexico" comes with a back story about the oil business that no doubt the early happy-hour drinkers from downtown will heartily disagree with but drive home thinking about. He calls out talkers in the back of the house near the registers, who are babbling during the set as camera flashes go off.

His Grammy-winning "This City," from the new album and the soundtrack from HBO's post-Katrina New Orleans drama Treme, comes with an Earle tale about street musicians in the historic and battered Louisiana cultural outpost.

You sit captivated on all of Earle's words in between songs. He could pontificate on the correct way to fold bath towels and you would feel like some sort of cosmic, weathered knowledge was being imparted.

For the die-hards in Cactus who have taken the long walk these few decades, Earle pulls out "Pancho and Lefty" from 2009's Townes Van Zandt covers LP, plus his own breakthrough line-dance hit "Copperhead Road," which brings a mild, sweetly rocking ruckus to the record store.

It was a good warm-up for has upcoming July 6 House of Blues show, which Earle detailed from the Cactus stage. His group the Dukes and Duchess (which would be wife Allison Moorer) has "tested positive for jam-band," he tells us, which in Earle's hands is going to be a little piece of all right.

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