Live Review: Justin Townes Earle

9 April 2012 | 3:05 pm | Craig Pearce

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On the downside, the Pat Capocci Band slavishly follow the superficial characteristics of rockabilly and complementary '50s attributes from which it emanated. They struggle to come across as much more than a gimmick with their predictable hairstyles, clothes, between-song comments, vocal hiccoughs and narrowly defined drumming and bass playing. On the upside, the band attack their repertoire with passion and energy, their songs' staid arrangements cannot camouflage their tunefulness and Capocci's guitar playing has a pleasing edge and propulsion. Plenty of artists have taken rockabilly and used it as a valuable template from which to develop their own individual and memorable voice. Tonight's headliner and A Guy Called Elvis can be included in that number.

Last year, Justin Townes Earle provided one of the most vivid, striking and memorable gigs. This time around he'd calmed down; not so hyperactive and fewer tales of drugs and debauchery. Due to a foggy sound mix, a large portion of the gig was a bit too passive, though even technical failings could not hide the profound tunefulness of his increasingly impressive oeuvre.

Interestingly, it was when his guitar/mandolin and bass accompanists left the stage to Earle and his own guitar that the energy and intensity of the performance lifted and had a greater impact. The elegant evanescence of Christchurch Woman and the gut wrenching intensity of Mama's Eyes were particular highlights. Despite (or because of?) Earle's hard living ways, he has an unyielding grasp on empathy and understanding. His insights into the human condition – lyrically and musically – are consistently enthralling.

It's tempting to classify Harlem River Blues as Earle's most impressive album, but when he pulls songs out from across his career it makes this claim a brave one. Unfortunately Anna, an instant stone cold classic off the new Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now LP, performed tonight with open-hearted emotion, being a case in point. Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now is an attempt to don a more self-conscious soul mantle than previous efforts, while songs like Maria and Memphis In The Rain are triumphant examples, but if there is one element Earle has never been short of, it's soul. Or quality songs. He's on the way to rivalling his idol and namesake, Townes van Zandt, in that department, on evidence of tonight's gig.

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