This last Thursday the planets lined up just right above the New York skyline and the night was graced by not one, but three excellent performances for a yearning for some fine alt.country faire.
The mighty Drive By Truckers dropped into the city to perform a free show at Clinton Castle national monument at Battery Park to play a free show for the River to River festival. The rainstorms that had come down all week held off but provided a cool, cloudy evening for the show.
I arrived at 8:00 to the capacity show that was already in progress and in the middle of the song of sexual discord “Panties In Your Purse”. The crowd was a mix of hipster, Wall Street workers that had strolled over from work a few blocks away and folks that look like they had taken their motorcycles or pick-ups from the nether regions of the East to catch the show.
With the “extremely amicable” departure of singer /songwriter/guitarist Jason Isbell I had some trepidation that the remaining band would be lacking in some significant way. I should have known better than to question the resiliency of mighty Truckers. With Athens, Georgia’s John Neff added in as guitarist and pedal steel and did a fine job brandishing his yellow metal flake Telecaster and the legendary Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham was joining the Truckers on some of the dates and added a layer of funk and rhythm I had yet heard at a DBT show.
The classis were mixed with the new cuts from the latest “A Blessing and a Curse” – “Heathens”, “Sounds Better In The Song”, “Sink Hole”, “Puttin’ People On The Moon”, “Bulldozers and Dirt”, “The Night G.G. Allin Came To Town”, “Where The Devil Don’t Stay”, “The Living Bubba”, “Sands Of Iwo Jima”, “Zip City”. There was a nod to New York City with the frequent set standard by the musician, author and poet Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” They night finished off with the night with a rousing rendition of Bruce Springteen’s harrowing song of alienation and violence State Trooper.
After the show I headed uptown to the Mercury lounge to catch Ex-Trucker Jason Isbell, but first opening the show was a man whose moniker sets a dizzyingly high level of expectations, Justin Townes Earle.
Being Steve Earle’s first born means growing up under difficult conditions (read the book Hard Core Troubadour for more details on this) and having some big boots to fill. And Justin’s middle name is, of course, in honor of Steve Earle’s musical and chemical, mentor Townes Van Zandt. Even bigger boots.
And judging from this evening’s show Justin is well on his way to being his own man. With only an acoustic guitar and a backing ukulele (didn’t catch the musician’s name) Donning a silver specked western shirt Justin covered quite a bit of his folk-ragtime tinged EP Yuma (which he himself went out front and sold at the door for $10.) The Ghost of Virginia. You Can’t Leave Yuma, Let the Waters Rise, A Desolate Angels Blues – as well as a Buck Owens cover that I did not recognize – All in all a splendid performance from a man with an impeccable Americana pedigree, but doesn’t just ride his namesakes shirt tales.
During the show Jason Isbell was mulling about in Mercury Lounge’s sold out small space. Now it was his turn to be the man in the front and not off to the right side of Patterson Hood.
Isbell and his Muscle Shoals area band the 400 Unit: Jimbo Hart (bass), Ryan Tillery (drums) and Browan Lollar (guitar) got right down to it with the searing blues-rock “Try” from the newly released Sirens of the Ditch, most of which was covered in this show.
Isbell then launched into a tribute to his former band mates by playing a song he cut with the Drive By Truckers the wrenching “God Damn Lonely Love” – he later made a kin-hearted reference to the truckers earlier show by saying – “I hope you got to catch those guys tonight. I was stuck here getting ready for this.”
Then came “The Assassin” and the excellent “Hurricanes and Hand Grenades” and the coming of age “Grown.”
As with his former band playing the distinctly New York song “People Who Died” Isbell’s band – specifically guitarist Browan Lollar sang the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer.”
The band then played the band then played the weakly poppy “New Kind of Actress”, which seeing it live didn’t make me like it any more then I did before. Then another nod to the DBT days with “Decoration Day.” The show ended with a blasting version of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” which left me exhilarated as well as drained from the long, delirious, night.