Carpenter, Earle continue doing what they do best
Greek Theater, Los Angeles, July 26, 2001
LOS ANGELES - Just looking at this double bill, which also featured Steve Earle as the opener for Mary Chapin Carpenter, brought to mind Earle's song "Hard-core Troubadour."
Both Carpenter and Earle have resided in country - but not of it - for much of their careers, but they're better described as stellar singer/songwriters who keep doing what they do best - whether country music happens to appreciate them at the moment, or not.
At a time when it's not at all surprising to witness country shows where visual affects rival that of rock concerts, Carpenter opened her set on this strangely cold July Los Angeles night sitting down on a chair and singing the thoughtful "In The Name Of Love" from her just-released "Time* Sex* Love*" album. This seated position, she explained later, was a result of her knee surgery a few weeks prior.
Such circumstances would have been a disaster for any artist with weak material, but Carpenter has always been a lyricist that can capture your attention and hold you spellbound by her wordplay. Her new album doesn't have the kind of songs to stop you in your tracks, but in this concert setting, many of these new compositions revealed their subtle charms.
These revelations were due in part to Carpenter's skill at introducing her songs well. For example, "Simple Life" from the new album acted as a springboard for Carpenter to get on her soapbox about society's over-dependence on advice about how to live more simply, when the best advice for living comes from common sense and the heart.
It's a song that fits in nicely within Carpenter's long history of creating thought-provoking social commentary. Other songs performed this night along those lines included "Dreamland," "Stones In The Road" and "He Thinks He'll Keep Her." Disappointingly, Carpenter refrained from singing "This Shirt" and "I Take My Chances," which are two of her better deeper songs.
Carpenter's reclined position was most conspicuous when she encored with "Down at the Twist and Shout," which is nothing if not a carefree dance song. It just didn't feel right to watch somebody performing this one sitting down.
Wisely, though, Carpenter steered clear of butt-shaking material - which she doesn't have much of to begin with - in order to concentrate on what touched minds and souls.
Earle was not only a "Hard-core Troubadour," but also a "Fearless Heart" during his hour-long opening set. This is because he and his three-piece band The Dukes - which included the veteran Eric Ambel on guitar and former db Will Rigby on drums - focused primarily on album cuts and non-hits.
Of course, Earle really hasn't had many bona fide hits, but there was no "Guitar Town," "Devil's Right Hand" or "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" to be found in this show.
Instead, Earle - whose voice sounded even rougher than usual - sang many cuts from his latest "Transcendental Blues" album, which included "Lonelier Than This" and "I Don't Want to Lose You Yet," as well as the title cut.
He did pick up his mandolin and play "The Galway Girl" and "Copperhead Road" at the end, but these were his few concessions to familiarity.