Live Review: Steve Earle & The Dukes, The Mastersons

21 March 2016 | 3:53 pm | Steve Bell

"Conversations left unfinished and drinks momentarily ignored as all attention focuses on this bearded troubadour's unparalleled knack for storytelling."

Proceedings are kept in-house tonight, with two members of Steve Earle's band The Dukes — Texas-bred husband-and-wife duo Chris Masterson (guitar/vocals) and Eleanor Whitmore (violin/vocals) in their guise as The Mastersons - warming up the growing crowd with a set of classy, heartfelt Americana. Their familial rapport colours strong tunes like Birds Fly South  and they even throw in tuneful political screed Good Luck Charm to finish, adding gravitas to the frivolity.

The assembled throng is large and reverent as Steve Earle & The Dukes take the stage, the grizzled frontman eschewing guitar for harmonica as they begin with swampy shuffle Baby Baby Baby (Baby). Their most recent album Terraplane (2015) was a collection of blues originals so they're traversing slightly different terrain than usual, continuing with new tracks You're The Best Lover That I Ever Had, Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now and Baby's Just As Mean As Me before moving slightly back in time with Love's Gonna Blow My Way from 2013's The Low Highway.

The band — augmented by drums and double bass — is classy and versatile but it's Earle's powerful songwriting and solemn delivery that brings so much emotional heft, his conviction carrying songs like the gorgeous My Old Friend The Blues and the touching Someday. The vibe lifts appreciably when Earle digs deep into his songbook and pulls out old classics Copperhead Road and Guitar Town in succession, this rousing one-two nostalgia punch eliciting much singing and dancing, before he softly applies the brakes with the heart-on-sleeve beauty of Goodbye. By now Earle's donned his familiar guitar again but he ditches it once more for the bittersweet I Thought You Should Know, before a stunning rendition of Galway Girl brings the room to a standstill, conversations left unfinished and drinks momentarily ignored as all attention focuses on this bearded troubadour's unparalleled knack for storytelling. Acquainted With The Wind is upbeat and joyous and showcases the band's clear camaraderie, whilst Earle's solo version of South Nashville Blues proves that his canon works perfectly in a minimal setting as well. They just keep playing and playing and playing, songs tumbling out and the delighted mob lapping them up, Earle scoring a rousing cheer for acknowledging Brisbane as "the punk rock capital of Australia" before Go Go Boots Are Back. They've racked up some 26 songs by the time they finish with a dirty take on King Of The Blues and a furious cover of Hey Joe, but the crowd's still thirsty for more and they're quickly coaxed back for Devil's Right Hand, a rollicking Down The Road and a killer cover of The Troggs' Wild Thing to bring it all home. The word 'legend' is bandied around a lot in musical circles, but it's sure appropriate when ascribed to Steve Earle - a bona fide living legend.