A Real Washington Square Serenade

Steve Earle with Allison Moorer at Judson Memorial Church – September 26th, 2008

After an excellent meal at Convivio last night, Alison and I headed over to the Steve Earle show at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park South.  Despite arriving only ten minutes before showtime and being unaware of any announced opener we were pretty surprised to find the place only about two-thirds full.  This was surprising, not only because of my own opinion of Earle’s quality and the fact that the good servers at Ticketmaster indicated the show was sold out, but also because Earle now calls Greenwich Village home and, I believe, recorded his most recent album, Washington Square Serenade there.

However, during the solid, but short openening set by Earle’s wife, Allison Moorer, the rest of the church (beautifully renovated in the 1990’s) filled up and all was well with my faith in the world.  Moorer’s set was mainly filled with ballads though not the one she recorded with Kid Rock.  Unlike most openers, Moorer seemed to retain the interest of most of the crowd with the exception of a couple of beer guzzlers behind us.  The audience was repaid with a strong vocal performance on her closer, Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come” which I last heard done by Vance Gilbert with Matt, Sandro, Nick, Ellen and others at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

The good Mr. Earle came out for his solo set at 8 and instantly earned an A in stage banter by introducing his first song, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” by Rick von Schmidt of Cambridge, Massachussetts and made famous by Bob Dylan with a little tale of how he lived across von Schmidt in Mexico for two years where von Schmidt had gone to paint but was too embarrased to talk to him and so Earle learned the song from the Dylan record.  Earle continued on with several more songs in the folk/protest tradition.  It was a pretty stark contrast from the Steve Earle I know best, that is the Steve Earle of Guitar Town, and  I Feel Alright.  I did notice that trademark bass lines on the guitar remained.

The next and largest part of the set was largely made up of songs from Washington Square Serenade (maybe even the entire album in fact) and were performed with the assistance of a DJ and effects man.  The songs included “Tennesee Blues,” “Down Here Below,” “Satellite Radie,” an excellent and heartfelt version of “Sparkle and Shine,” “Jericho Road,” “Oxycontin Blues”, the song he wrote for Pete Seeger “Steve’s Hammer (For Pete)” which included a Seeger style sing-a-long to end the war in Iraq,  “Days Aren’t Long Enough,”  and the theme song for Season 5 of the Wire,”Way Down in the Hole.”  Also in this part of the set was “Transcendental Blues” which was done in the style of Washington Square Serenade, which is to say that there were beats and other electronic effects accompanying Earle.

Earle’s encore was excellent.  More excellent than my recall, unfortunately.  He did “Hillbilly Highway” which received a solitary yelp from me – making me feel like a frat boy at a Pat Green concert.  The real gem of the encore and the show, however, was his cover of the Townes van Zandt song, “Pancho and Lefty.”  Earle also dropped that he was planning on recording full album of van Zandt songs shortly.  This was a solid show with a reverent if a sedate audience.

More pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/allanroth

Update: Brooklyn Vegan puts my point and click skills to shame with pics from the Thursday night show.

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One response to “A Real Washington Square Serenade

  1. Steve Earle Sings Townes Van Zandt? I’m looking forward to it.

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