Friday, September 7, 2018

Live Shows: Steve Earle & The Dukes, Prescott Park Arts Festival, Portsmouth, NH 9/6/18

Photo by Ken Sears
Despite considering myself a fairly big Steve Earle fan, I had only seen him once before: The 2008 Newport Folk Festival, where instead of a backing band he performed with a DJ. For ten years I've wanted to see an actual Steve Earle set, but it hasn't worked out. (Not to mention I'm insanely cheap with concert tickets, and Steve Earle isn't an inexpensive show.) When I found out he was closing out the 2018 Prescott Park Arts Festival for an $8.00 suggested donation, I obviously had to make the trip.

I had previously heard Steve Earle & The Dukes were going to be performing Copperhead Road in its entirely to celebrate the album's 30th anniversary, but I hadn't realized the Prescott Park show was going to be one of those performances. It was a pleasant and welcome surprise, especially with "Snake Oil" and "The Devil's Right Hand" present on that album. The night even included the album's closing song, "Nothing But a Child," which is a Christmas song. Earle prefaced the song by explaining that Christmas songs are usually written and recorded in July, and told stories of Nashville artists writing Christmas songs during the summer.

After the Copperhead Road, portion of the evening, Earle went right for his 2017 release, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, playing the first three songs from that release ("So You Wannabe an Outlaw," "Lookin' for a Woman," and "The Firebreak Line"). Steve Earle & The Dukes went all over Earle's career from there, including "Guitar Town" and two of his songs with The Del McCoury Band ("I'm Still in Love With You" and "Dixieland"). The main set ended with a much more rocking than expected cover of "Hey Joe" that would have sounded at home at a Neil Young or Pearl Jam show.

Of course, no Steve Earle show would be complete without some political statements. "Snake Oil" seemed to be rededicated to the current President, but for the most part his politics seemed to be more to implore more people to get involved and vote and to decry nationalism since borders between nations aren't real when you're flying overhead.

Earle also declared Prescott Park one of his favorite gigs, mostly because the stage changes depending on the play being performed there each summer. This year was Seussical: The Musical, so the stage looked like the background of a Dr. Seuss book. Earle seemed delighted by this, and mentioned that Green Eggs & Ham was his first book. His enjoyment was infectious, and Earle's well over two hour performance was one of the finest I've seen in a long time, all for $8.00.

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