It’s too bad that there is so little room for Steve Earle on today’s FM band. You would think that after fourteen studio albums and three Grammys radio executives would begin to take notice. But if it were not for XRT letting a few of his songs occasionally seep into their play list, he would be completely shut out of the local radio market. Credit some of the dis to Steve Earle not exactly fitting into any genre. Is he rock and roll or country? Maybe he is a folk singer? Most often people throw their hands up and just place him in that ambiguous, catch all “Americana” genre which is filled with all type of musical miscasts including the likes of acoustic blues legend Chris Smither and the more countrified Old Crow Medicine Show.
Chicago fans still dig Steve Earle’s music though and they have come out in droves to sell out all three of his XRT sponsored acoustic solo concerts at what has to be one of swankest venues in town, the City Winery. A friend recently told me how Steve Earle has carried him through many a dark time. While listening to his earth worn voice belt out Transcendental Blues I could understand how the survivor artist/ poet could elevate and fortify. From his 1986 break out album Guitar Town to his most recent offering I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle has created tunes that offer insight into the human condition. What he uncovers might not always be pretty, but it sure does get your attention.
Last night, he played a two hour plus set that traveled all over his comprehensive song book. At times he sung of being caught in a hopeless web of addiction (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain) where there can never be anything that could possible make you feel alright. But then he would rebound and show you exactly how good it can feel to be alive and chasing a “Galway Girl” (even if deep down inside one knows the chase is futile). Whatever the subject matter, Steve Earle performed it with a sincerity and grace that went right to the heart.
Opening for Steve Earle was equally hard to label Canadian singer songwriter Leeroy Stagger. His deep voice and gentle guitar playing perfectly framed his clever, often piercing lyrics. A stand out among his impressive set was the melancholy Break my Heart. Based on the audience's enthusiastic reaction to this up and coming artist, I am certain he would be very much welcomed back to the City Winery.
City Winery is located at 1200 W. Randolph (312-724-5610). For upcoming shows click here. For general information including upcoming shows for Steve Earle, click here. Leeroy Stagger’s website is here.
Photos by Noel Schecter except for photo credited to Nunu