FOR a songwriter whose political edge has long been well-established – a kind of Bruce Springsteen of the country-rock scene, or a Woody Guthrie filtered through later decades of rich, righteous West Coast Americana – Steve Earle did impressively well in avoiding polemic until the end of his set.
Perth Concert Hall ****
Far from indulging in obvious tub-thumping, the San Antonio-raised Earle instead laid out his recording plans for the near-future while strumming the opening chords to his closing song The Girl on the Mountain.
First, he said, he’s planning a tribute record of songs by the recently-departed Guy Clark, a companion piece to Earle’s Townes Van Zandt album; next, a political record which addresses the fractured situation in America, an announcement met with whoops and hollers by the crowd.
In a recording career lasting more than three-and-a-half decades and 16 albums of his own, Earle’s presence has rarely felt more comforting.
Amid an extensive, nearly two-hour set, his world-weary growl found its way through an array of strikingly poignant moments; the “there’ll be no wire or walls” line from Jerusalem; the threat of racial violence in Taneytown; the dark, epic tale of migration and civil war in Dixieland, a monumental piece of storytelling in song.
Accompanied by his excellent band the Dukes, Earle wound through fan favourite Copperhead Road and a tense, prowling cover of Hey Joe.
Yet perhaps the most affecting moment was when he revealed just what to expect from that record-after-next. “If I can write songs which speak to those on the other side from me,” he said, “then I’ll get to call myself a political songwriter worth a damn.”