‘Justin Townes Earle’ was honest.
The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent hosts Justin Townes Earle as he presents his eighth album, titled and cheekily bestowing himself as ‘The Saint of Lost Causes’. Fuelled by 32 years of lessons hard-learned, his social commentary on capitalism, family feuds, and addiction is paired with his slow-swinging signature sound of authentic country and pre-rock from his Nashville roots. Following five critically acclaimed albums, multiple rehab stints, and constant touring, Earle remains true to himself and his fans respectively.
Smoke and fog seep across the empty ‘parlour’. After a dragged stroll on stage, he stands and inhales. With just two warm spotlights beaming onto his damp forehead and slicked jet black hair, we can see all that he is. He has nothing to hide.
The Spiegeltent’s purple floral-patterned back-drop hosts a high table with several beer bottles, mostly empty, and a few scribbled notes. His light blue button-up, dark jeans and cowboy moustache combo lazily lends itself to the Southern American saloon theme. His frequent swearing and humble stance, only stepping back a few paces for a swig of beer, makes it clear that Earle needs no more and no less.
Initially, the air is thin, as the audience feel almost unsure of how to take him; his America-specific jokes are land slightly off the mark. However, we quickly learn that he is not here to win anyone over, and with that attitude, he has already won. “I don’t get America sometimes,” he slurs halfway through the set, “but, Queensland, you can do anything here!”. Redemption.
With no other singers or players and no overdubs, he lets out his low baritone growls, often trailing off beyond the microphone. While some of the album tracks have a low set of call-and-response harmonies, this live delivery truly conveys the loneliness of his lyrics.
A nerve is struck toward the end of the night in ‘Ahi Esta Mi Nina’, a one-way conversation of devastating parental remorse and failed connection. “You’re the only good I ever done with my life,” he declares “And I never done right by you”. These confessions we are privy to, indicate his personal growth in these most recent years. Then, just as easily, we see his light-hearted side again; “If you behave, you get two more songs for the encore”. And so, as promised, he returns (shirtless) for the encore with Harlem River Blues from the 2010 Album of the same title.
The intimate melodic ballads of his past struggles leave a sense of darkness, but Earle still manages to summon a nostalgic applause after every song, withholding his status as one of the forefathers of Contemporary Americana.
‘Justin Townes Earle’ played for a one-night-only performance. His tour continues in the United States until Tuesday, 5 November 2019. For more information about Brisbane Festival, visit the Brisbane Festival’s Website.