lthough Steve Earle's band, The Dukes, is one fine instrumental unit, it's nevertheless a treat to see him solo with just an acoustic guitar, mandolin and various harmonicas. It gives him more flexibility in the setlist, since he doesn't need to teach a group how to play his various deep cuts. Even so, his setlist wasn't all that different from the songs he played the last time at the same venue last year. Even some of his between song introductions were the same. Nevertheless, there were more than enough differing elements to make it a worthwhile outing.
Earle opened with The Pogues' "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," explaining how nobody can understand the words when its writer, Shane MacGowan, sings it. Earle also performed "Taneytown," "South Nashville Blues," "CCKMP" and "Transcendental Blues," which he didn't include the last time through. Return gems, though, included "Someday" and "Mr. Bojangles" (a Jerry Jeff Walker cover), which were each appreciated – again.
Seeing him supporting himself, showcased Earle's guitar skills, which go well beyond just strumming along with a few chords. He fingerpicks well and adds a lot of musical variety to his folk-ish songs. Also, there was a hush in the room when he performed "Goodbye," one of his saddest compositions which may not have been as pronounced, if not possible, with a backing unit. Also, the sing-alongs on "Someday" and "Mr. Bojangles" were much louder without all the added amplification. It felt cozy and intimate, and despite having a reputation for being a badass, Earle was nevertheless quite the jovial host.
Channing Wilson, from Georgia, opened the night with a strong set of bluesy country songs. The best of which was "Black Jesus," inspired by one of Wilson's first jobs as a young man where he met a man that impacted his life positively and one he would never forget.
Steve Earle is so doggone smart and entertaining, he could have just given this Sunday night audience a monologue, and this gathered group would have left happy. Instead, he played the role of the lone troubadour, which – along with many other things – is something he does particularly well.