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Bluesfest: Earle v Earle

Steve Earle
Apr 8th 2012 | Dan Condon
With the Earles following one another, Steve plays like he's got something to prove.

By the time day three of Bluesfest rolls around you really start to get into some kind of a rhythm; seeing bands, drinking beers and generally soaking up the good vibes comes pretty naturally and feels more like a right than a privilege. After a a close call with a plane touching down at the Tyagarah Airstrip on our way out to the venue, we shuffle through the gates, down the path through the sniffer dogs (who really do detract from the festival's otherwise relaxed vibe, it has to be said) and back into the Tea Tree Farm for another round.Bluesfest 

I sneak off from our pack to soak up a little Bettye LaVette; I'd planned on waiting to catch her whole set tomorrow but curiosity gets the best of me and I can't deny myself a look. She sounds incredible tonight and her band are killer; a real rock band slamming out these gritty soul numbers with gusto. LaVette's voice is stunning and during Joy she proves why she is held in such high regard; her voice is deeply emotional and incredibly powerful.

There's a decent crowd gathered together at the Jambalaya tent for the first of the two Earles tonight, Justin Townes Earle, who opens up with They Killed John Henry, immediately proving to all that he is in great touch and bringing his A-game to proceedings tonight. I feel a bit nervous when, after a couple of solo tunes, he's joined by a guitarist and a bassist. Earle is such a great performer on his own that, even though he's brought musicians out to join him before, I can't help but feel that adding to it may really be taking away – but I needn't have worried, they've both a deft touch and flesh out the sound very nicely. He plays plenty from his latest record Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, which is welcome to my ears as I truly believe its his best yet; Memphis In The Rainis a slick and tidy introduction, if you're not swooning at Am I That Lonely Tonight then you're just not in the spirit of things and you can hear a pin drop by the time he gets around to the title track and closer Unfortunately Anna. A pointed and hilarious stab at rockabilly leads into a ripping Ain't Waitin'Harlem River Blues gets an epic response, the three musicians closing harmonies really sealing the deal, and Christchurch Woman and Mama's Eyes are just two more reasons why this guy is one of the truly great songwriters and performers coming through in the modern day.

The new generation have had their fun, now Steve Earle comes onstage and it seems like he has a point to prove. You can't blame him, his son has just absolutely dominated so he needs to be sure this is something special. He maybe tries a little too hard too early, trying to coax the audience into a singalong for the chorus of Christmas In Washington from 1997's El Corazon, but people just aren't familiar enough with the song and it falls a little flat. He's not going to let that get him down though, turning on the charm and pulling out a real mixed bag of material. He airs a brand new song about burning down a Wal-Mart, tells a hilarious story about his son Justin (“you may have met him”) finding dad's pistol when he goes to live with him after he got clean which leads into a storming The Devil's Right Hand. I Ain't Ever SatisfiedMy Old Friend The Blues and Goodbye are all magic in that the crowd and performer truly look to be enjoying them, but the same can't be said for inevitable closer Copperhead Road. Earle honestly doesn't look like he enjoys playing it and while kudos to him for delivering what many want to hear, I don't think too many here would begrudge him if he took it our of the set.

I'm not feeling Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot! tonight, but in consultation with my fellow festival-goers it may have been a case of being in the wrong place to soak it up. I stand at the back of the Mojo tent and the only thing that I get out of it is the realisation that this is nowhere near strong enough to be holding the attention of this many thousands of people on such a big stage. It's boring, plodding rockabilly and even a cover of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues doesn't help much.

At least Setzer was just boring, not terrible. Donavon is terrible. I don't really know what to say about this set, he comes out by himself and runs through such uninspiring versions of his tunes, he may as well be the guy down the local pub bashing away at 60s favourites on his acoustic guitar. To Try For The Sun is cringeworthy, Colours slightly better and Universal Soldier slightly better again – but still not good at all. I can't stick around to see if he gets any better with a band, I'm so bored that even the rather bland Setzer set seems an alluring proposition.

The appearance of John Fogerty is well delayed tonight, which is a real shame, but when he hits the stage the waiting is all made worthwhile. He's doing the 1970 Creedence Clearwater Revival album Cosmo's Factory in full first up tonight, which is great because there are so many incredible songs on that record, but a little bit annoying in that you know exactly which song is coming net. It's a minor complaint though, how can you not be happy when Fogerty is smashing out songs like Travelin' BandOoby DoobyRun Through The JungleUp Around Bend and Long As I Can See The Light? I probably don't even need to tell you that the biggest singalong from the record comes with Lookin' Out My Back Door (Who'll Stop The Rain a close secomd) but there's plenty more opportunities for punters to get their voices going when Fogerty launches into the second part of his set, a greatest hits retrospective. He kicks off with his solo tune Centrefield, playing a guitar shaped like a baseball bat, but keeps the Creedence rolling with Born On The Bayou, a blistering Keep On Chooglin' and a spirited Who'll Stop The Rain which has the Mojo tent all singing in unison. The low point of the set comes with his cover of Pretty Woman, but for some reason it receives one of the biggest responses of the night. What a waste of a song – he could have been playing a Creedence song in that four minutes. The Old Man Down The Road has Fogerty spitting out his vocal most viciously tonight, it's a great rendition of a great song that doesn't quite get the response it deserves. No such problem with the final songs in the set;Bad Moon RisingFortunate SonRockin' All Over The World and Proud Mary all ensuring every Creedence fan well and truly gets their fill of this surprisingly still vibrant and proficient performer. 

Sunday is our last day of the festival and it all culminates in The Pogues closing things out on the Crossroads stage. Will Shane make it onstage? Will they be any good? Will they crush my dreams and be ruined by the huge expectations I have for them? Well, I guess you'll find out tomorrow.



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