Live Review: Justin Townes Earle - Prince Bandroom

18 April 2012 | 9:06 am | Dylan Stewart

It’s a touching set, and everyone here tonight has experienced something truly memorable with one of Americana’s modern-day folk heroes.

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It's that time of year when it's still warm enough outside that jackets aren't quite a necessity yet, but inside the Prince Bandroom, the air conditioner seems a little too cool, and it's no surprise that most of the crowd is clustered towards the back half of the room. It might be only slightly after 8pm, but there's a relatively healthy smattering here to enjoy local three-piece The ReChords as they take to the stage. Channelling Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, the irony of lead singer Leo Francis singing about Facebook while playing such nostalgic music is not lost on most of the crowd. Despite this, their half-hour set is inspired and as the crowd pours in, smiles and the odd dancing foot can be seen around the room.

Up next is the artist known only as Archer. Trying to find anything about this guy online is like pulling teeth, but the way he sings and plays his three-quarter-size guitar is hauntingly beautiful and, with the Prince near-bursting with punters, it doesn't matter right now. His songs are field songs, he sings like a 90-year-old slave in the cotton fields of the Deep South, but, like William Elliot Whitmore, his young, white, 21st Century crowd laps up every minute. And even if the novelty wears off slightly by set's end, Archer is a name to watch.

Just after 10pm, Justin Townes Earle takes to the stage on his own. Dressed in a dapper check jacket and golden tie, as he takes to songs like Wanderin'– an ode to “the great Woody Guthrie” – his crowd gets its money's worth within ten minutes. After performing a couple of songs solo, Earle is joined on stage by a couple of pals, on double bass and guitar/mandolin, and they kick into several songs off his latest album Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, namely Passing Through Memphis In The Rain, Unfortunately Anna and Mama I'm Hurting. On stage, Earle's songs are freer and looser than they appear on disc, offering an extra dimension to his brilliant songwriting. As he plays crowd favourites such as Harlem River Blues, Mama's Eyes and One More Night In Brooklyn, there's a sense of something special in the room tonight, and (after the shortest encore break in the history of live performances) They Killed John Henry is the perfect way to finish. It's a touching set, and everyone here tonight has experienced something truly memorable with one of Americana's modern-day folk heroes.