Saturday, May 19, 2012

Justin Townes Earle - Tristen -- Birchmere - May 18 2012

Tristen - First up is Tristen with full band. She plays guitar and sings with the usual accompaniment of guitar, bass, and drums. There's a wonderfully spooky beginning in "Stay" that maintains its presence even when the pop vocal line powers through. And it is not long before this style is the formula for success for this intriguing pop music. The band lays down something that might lean toward typical Americana, but stays on an ethereal plane that it is not necessarily rooted. They remind me of what a couple of my favorites, the Sadies and the Loom, are capable of. Tristen's songs are catchy, but melt into this music creating extra emotional levels for the listener to sort out. She had a slightly spacey humor working well in between songs and the 43 minute set breezed by. Yet there were plenty of distinct songs, guitar moves, soft tribal thumping, and backup vocal harmonies from the bass player to offer much to focus on. Simplicity may be on the forefront here, but there are complex moments to show that Tristen and her band have got a lot to offer. I believe most of this Justin Townes Earle crowd was picking up the vibe here tonight.
Justin Townes Earle - He carries around two names that are, shall we say, rather big in American songwriting history? Not worth debating at how much that means to him as he has had other troubling issues to deal with over his 30 years of life. Although he may not have gotten it all together yet, his songs are about as together as you would ever want. He was extremely successful tonight at pulling this near sold-out crowd into his songs. They are surprisingly short, but still nail all the points to be made. He claimed at one point that he creates composite characters mostly, but admitted on particular song was directed at an old girlfriend--"I hope it hurts." I think I detected a little more autobiographical material than he may want to admit, but I would have to study his albums further and even then only guess. Better to just join into his world for 90 minutes. He played solo for a couple songs at the start, in the middle, and one more to start the encore double. I really liked his solo playing more than the full band, which is normally not the case for me. By all means, I think having the band is a good idea, but I found his acoustic playing solid and varied with even some vocal style changes. The band was rock solid, but almost too smooth and professional for my tastes. They all seemed like great studio sessionmen and only a few times later in the set, did the drummer push things a bit. The stand-up bass was nice and he added some dramatic bow touches. The guitarist added some steel guitar and was solid, just a bit predictable I suppose. Earle was very good with the banter as he has a dark sense of humor and sounds like he would be fun to talk to, although he appears like he could get a little scary. Aside from introducing the band about six times, he commanded a lot of attention with his style. But that goes for his songs, too, as he is someone well worth a listen live or off his albums.

Quote of the Night: Oh so many, but Mr. Earle gave this one early on... "I moved away from honky-tonk after my 1st album since I didn't want to play that the rest of my life. Also, I didn't want to look out and see a bunch of square heads and cowboy hats... But I still like it and you'll see it in this one. Hank Williams got his 12-bar blues pattern from somewhere. He did NOT just make that up."

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