Jumping Hot Club; Caedmon Hall, Gateshead, January 2015
Tonight’s gig was something of a “double header” with support act, Andrew Combs debut album picking up some astonishing reviews in the preceding week, meaning the Caedmon Hall was already nearly full when the handsome, foppish haired singer-songwriter walked on stage.
Starting his set with Motel Rain Combs’ warm voice immediately had the audience nodding and smiling in the knowledge that they were witnessing something special, with each song receiving louder and longer applause as the set progressed.
Combs smouldering voice was exceptional on Rainy Day Song, the delightful All These Dreams plus Too Stoned to Cry which was introduced with a very funny self-depreciating story.
With songs as good as this and a personality to match, it was no wonder there were a couple of calls for “more” and a long queue to buy his album during the interval.
I’m always surprised at how much Justin Townes Earle divides opinion among Americana fans; as most of his back catalogue comfortably stands alongside that of his contempories, and I’ve never failed to enjoy his concerts; there’s no accounting for taste is there?
The recently married and ‘clean’ singer looked very relaxed as he strode onto the stage alongside Calexico and ex-Lambchop guitarist Paul Niehaus and with a beaming smile launched into Burning Pictures from his latest double album Single Mothers/Absent Fathers and as the generous applause died down he introduced the first of only a handful of older songs; One More Night in Brooklyn by explaining it was about a bad tome in his life when he lived there, as it was as close as he could afford to actually live in New York.
Baring in mind the album hadn’t been released yet, the faces on the people around me were a picture of delight as they listened intently to Earle’s love song to Billie Holliday – White Gardenias for the very first time. Earle’s presentation of the song was akin to eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between two lovers. Four people actually stood to applaud when it ended.
Another ‘showstopper’ from the new album; which very few had heard prior to the gig was the delicate, When The Woman You Love Loses Faith (in You); which was so touching it had the woman in front of me virtually forgetting to breathe for Its duration.
If I have a gripe with Justin Townes Earle it’s his on/off relationship with his father, Steve which has been played out so publically over the years in interviews and song (Absent Fathers?); tonight’s introduction to the eminently danceable song about his paternal Grandfather John Henry included a sly aside about Steve ‘not being the only Pinko’ in the family, as an uncle writes a Communist column in a local newspaper. I don’t think the singers fans care anymore and love his music for what it is.
With only a couple of songs from the back catalogue included it was something of a surprise to hear two cover versions included, but no Justin Townes Earle concert would be the same without a Townes Van Zandt song and tonight we got Rexs Blues and also Lightning Hopkins amazing Bad Gasoline, which preceded an astonishing interpretation of Single Mothers, which was so intense he actually appeared to inhabit the lyrics.
After 20 songs the still smiling Earle and multi-talented sidekick Niehaus left the stage for the obligatory 45 seconds before returning for a slow and sensual version of H ere I Go Again, which he dedicated to Mothers everywhere and ended an amazing concert with a rip-roaring Harlem River Blues, which did receive a standing ovation from everyone in the hall.