Steve Earle & The Dukes rolled through Portland, Oregon on Monday, August 14th, delivering a long set that featured music spanning Earle’s storied career, to an attentive and appreciative audience at Revolution Hall.
Husband and wife duo The Mastersons opened the show. Chris Masterson, armed with an acoustic guitar, and Eleanor Whitmore, with a fiddle, play a type of alternative country Americana that covers the gamut of human emotions.
The Mastersons have a new album out, Transient Lullaby, which is loaded with songs the duo wrote during their seemingly nonstop travels around the country and the world. With three albums under their belt, The Mastersons have honed their craft, relying on strong writing, musicianship and vocal harmonies to tell their stories. Their experiences shine through in their songwriting, and songs like “Fight,” with the lyric, “I don’t wanna fight with anyone else but you,” show that they can approach life’s more serious themes with a little tongue-in-cheek humor.
The Dukes feature bassist Kelly Looney (who’s been playing with Earle for nearly 30 years), drummer Brad Pemberton, Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, and The Mastersons, who worked a double shift, playing electric guitar and fiddle.
To get the crowd prepped for the appearance of The Dukes, Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around” was pumped through the speakers before the band took the stage. Leaving no doubt that they were touring in support of the freshly released So You Wanna Be An Outlaw, Steve Earle & The Dukes played six songs from the new album to open the show. They started with the title track then played “Lookin’ For A Woman,” “The Firebreak Line,” Walk In L.A.,” “Sunset Highway,” and “News From Colorado,” before dropping the first of some of Earle’s longtime favorites with “Guitar Town.”
The rest of the set worked in songs that spanned Earle’s career, and included some of his most popular songs like “Jerusalem,” “The Galway Girl,” and of course “Copperhead Road.” Earle has never been shy about telling a story or two along the way, and this night was no different. The stories on Monday veered more toward the personal than the political, and one touching story centered on the recent death of his long-time friend and mentor Guy Clark. Earle then led the band through “Goodbye Michelangelo,” his tribute to Clark. Another new tune, “Fixin’ To Die” and a cover of “Hey Joe” closed out the set.
When listening to Earle’s new album, which he dedicated to the 70s outlaw country movement, especially Waylon Jennings, it’s clear that while some of the song structures, beats and instrumentation may represent the era, Earle’s voice and vocal delivery aren’t necessarily a match. What’s actually great about this is considering all of the music Earle has written and recorded (16 studio albums in all) over the years, and realizing that even when he’s paying homage to and exploring different genres, including bluegrass, blues, Irish music, or any other number of influences, his songs are distinctly his own. He honors the past, but his voice will always be his own. It has become intertwined with Americana music and it won’t be long before albums are made paying homage to him.