In one of the most elegant venues in Dublin, the setting is modest. A small Persian rug, a plain wooden table and a blue velvet backdrop punctured with white fairy lights. It’s just Steve Earle and his guitar as he begins the set with tracks from his début album, the suitably titled Guitar Town. By the time he reaches ‘I Ain’t Ever Satisifed’, Earle is accompanying himself on harmonica and the audience are a reverent chorus.
This is as elaborate as the instrumentation gets; orange and yellow lights dim and swell, creating a warmth that mirrors Earle’s stage presence. He’s unassuming yet commanding, singing in a warm, gravelly growl that easily envelopes that auditorium usually reserved, he points out, for symphony orchestras. The self-proclaimed ‘chick song’ portion of his set includes ‘Now She’s Gone’, ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘Goodbye’- simple, earnest love songs delivered with the intensity of a teenager so engrossed in singing into their hairbrush they haven’t noticed their mom coming into their bedroom.
Earle is a master at developing an intimate rapport with his audience, inviting them into his world through personal anecdotes. Before singing “Goodbye”, a song he shares with Emmylou Harris, he dedicates his rendition to her mother Eugenia (“it’s like that family were dipped in something”) who, he claims, made the best fried chicken in the world. Between references to his past drug use and present sobriety, his current divorce (“If I’m going to keep anything it’s this fucking mandolin!”) and his son, the singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle (“I’ve learned it’s best not to speak for him”), the gig is charmingly confessional in tone, and the audience are captivated.
There are performances of ‘Feel Alright’ and ‘Hardcore Troubadour’, as Earle jokes about ripping off Van Morrison and delivering them back-to-back at a gig in Belfast. ‘CCKMP (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain’), he tells the crowd, reminds him of his enduring sobriety, while songs like ‘Taneytown’ and ‘Tom Ames’ Prayer’ remind us that he is an unparalleled raconteur, weaving evocative narratives through every song. A passionate mini monologue on the importance of arts funding prefaces the most well received songs of the night, ‘Dixieland’ and ‘Galway Girl’ on the mandolin, and a poignant delivery of ‘Jerusalem’ brings the two hour set full circle.
At one point during the evening, he delivers a beautiful, eloquent spoken word introduction to a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Rex’s Blues’ and speaks of what it is to feel like ‘it’s snowing on your mountain and no place else’. In other words, exactly how it is to be a member of a Steve Earle audience.