Never on our shores often enough, Justin Townes Earle played his last gig in Melbourne this past Thursday. According to fans, his gig at the Regal Ballroom the night before was rather subdued but the Prince Bandroom succeeded in drawing the younger and rowdier crowd.
First up was local trio The Rechords. A good ol’ fashioned guitar (and large Bass) heavy group straight from a shotgun wedding in the Deep South. Their appearance implied clean cut, but their guitar playing was sinful. The kind that got Link Wray accused of inciting juvenile delinquency. A welcome support to the juvenile delinquent of the moment: Justin Townes Earle. Indeed, when one of The Rechords songs mentioned Facebook it was almost sad to have broken the old fashioned vibe. The sheer passion with which they played was enough to make up for that and also it was nice to see a group do something different with the Americana genre instead of just imitating the greats. Also of note: no drummer. Where did that foot tapping beat come from then?
Second support was Archer; by the looks of him he came right off Fitzroy Street from busking. You would be ashamed to pass him over though, as the tale often goes, once he started singing it was like being in the company of royalty.
Justin Townes Earle took the stage in a sour mood; “I have a migraine,” he grumbled. Stated more as a fact this was nothing to concern the audience as Justin launched into crowd pleaser “Halfway to Jackson.” And three songs on he was bantering with the crowd as though he didn’t have a care in the world. “This song is about driving real fast to get out of a city you hate.”’ (“Memphis In The Rain”). Musicians are intimidating for obvious reasons but none behave so cool about it as Justin Townes Earle, though for all his don’t take no shit demeanor it is nice to catch him off-guard mid-song.
“Memphis in the Rain” in particular put a giddy smile on his face as he remembered how much he hated that town. And for all the stories he told about nice and not so nice people who inspired his songs, when he played at times he looked as happy as a kid on Christmas morning unwrapping a guitar.
Songs like “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now” (from the new album of the same name) made it hard to be too overly sympathetic towards him, when he is actually just so darn inspiring. If you got family problems, this guy is the prescription you’re after. There’s no one else now as brutally honest in their song writing as Justin Townes Earle. He had other words of wisdom to impart too: “It’s harder to stop selling drugs than stop taking them,” he warned the crowd before pressing on into the heartfelt junky-that-got-away tune “Unfortunately, Anna.”
“Harlem River Blues” got the loudest crowd response, with the audience coming in for the chorus each time. Most sweetly in the last chorus, Justin put aside his guitar and placed his hands behind his back, like a good church boy on his way to baptism.
Too soon Justin was saying his goodbyes to the crowd but not before a larrikin called out, “Hey Justin! What’s you’re guitarists name?”
“Robert” was the cool reply before the heckler added, ‘He’s the best guitarist I’ve ever seen!’ This seemed to amuse Justin enough to play “Mama’s Eyes” (a song the heckler had been previously calling out for). When Justin was called back to the stage, he half listened to the crowd’s requests but you could tell he couldn’t care less about pleasing them and was probably thinking about some pain killers in his hotel room. Even still, he teased the crowd long enough before playing “They Killed John Henry” just so they could sing along with him as they had longed to from the beginning of his set.
- Hannah Joyner