One aspect of Justin Townes Earle’s stage presence I hadn’t considered much before Friday’s show at The State Room is the man’s talent for quickly and comically dismissing loudmouths and hecklers in the audience.
Over the course of his excellent show, Earle told one loud guy to simmer down, adding that as the man with the microphone, he’d always be louder. Another rambunctious fellow’s bellowing was met with a sneering, “I remember my first beer.” And in introducing one song, he insisted the entire audience NOT try to clap along to his jagged rhythm.
Don’t take all that to mean Earle is a cranky cat–those asides are just part of a night-long narrative in which Earle mixes his stunning songs rooted in American country, folk and blues with between-song banter that veers from darkly funny to deeply touching on a dime. Put it all together, and it makes for some of the most mesmerizing live shows I’ve ever seen one man deliver accompanied only by his guitar.
Friday’s show introduced some new songs to Earle’s rabid local audience-an audience that apparently includes a new wife from right here in SLC, according to one of his mid-show soliloquies. “Memphis in the Rain” from his 2012 album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, started the proceedings, and at mid-song Earle amusingly chided himself for picking a first song that required some “real singing.”
“They Killed John Henry,” dedicated to his grandpa, and “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving” and “Mama’s Eyes” followed up, making for a pretty stunning start to the night. From there, the audience was treated to a slew of favorites like “Am I That Lonely Tonight?,”"Maria,” “Baby’s Got a Bad Idea” and “Ain’t Waitin’” as well as some brand new songs–the one that struck me most quickly, “Single Mothers,” had a chorus of “Single mother, absent father, broken home.”
Earle’s voice was strong, his guitar picking as mesmerizing as ever, and his songs hit several stratospheric heights along the journey of Friday night’s show.