rtb and I had not been to the Music Hall of Williamsburg in a while and both of us had forgotten how small it is. It’s also the first place we saw Justin perform and fell in love with his version of Americana.
Anthony D’Amato opened with Katy Pinke singing harmony. We’d seen him once before opening for Joe Pug at the Mercury Lounge. I enjoyed his set last time and enjoyed seeing him again. He was more engaged with the audience this time around and played some very rocking songs that showed off his guitar chops. Last time it was a very quiet set. When he first walked out he was wearing a Stetson that made him look Amish and then later he told a story about a vendor, seeing him in that hat, in Austin telling him to enjoy his Rumspringa. Since he lives in NYC (more specifically Brooklyn), I look forward to seeing him again.
Justin Townes Earle is traveling with the same band that he recorded Single Mothers and Absent Fathers with: Paul Niehaus (electric guitar/pedal steel guitar), Mark Hedman (electric bass), and Matt Pence (drums). At his last gig I complained about the drums being too loud and I’ll say it again – the drums need to be lower in volume for the type of music that Justin plays. Justin, of course, was on acoustic guitar and just killing it, as always, with his way of playing that makes it sound as if two guitarists are playing. Niehaus plays a lovely pedal steel and Hedman is strong and steady.
When it took some time for the band to come out I was worried about the reason why. Justin came out and announced that he may forget some of the lyrics because of all the marijuana he’s been smoking and my heart just broke. It was difficult for me to get into the set at first because I couldn’t stop thinking about his using again. He’s been sober for a while and I thought this time, with the new marriage, it might stick. Justin can be nasty when he’s not sober and before “Call Ya Momma” he said that he’s been told it’s a sexist song and he told the bitch to shut up. Not very nice. Luckily the rest of the evening did not get any worse and that’s as nasty as it got. Justin was drinking lots of water and when he put his guitar on the table at the end of the night (because he had kicked over the guitar stand) he spilled water and didn’t care if it got on his guitar.
As for the music, it was excellent. He played a mix of his old songs and new ones from the last two albums. “White Gardenias” about Billie Holiday got a pointed introduction about artists who are junkies and people worrying more about their drug use than their art. “One More Night in Brooklyn” is about his time living in Crown Heights. “Midnight at the Movies” is about Gregory Corso. “Memphis in the Rain” is about driving from Nashville to Memphis to see punk rock bands when he was only thirteen and hanging out with a group of people not very good for him. “Christchurch Woman” is about Christchurch after the earthquake.
For his solo set he played “They Killed John Henry” (for his grandfather), “Mama’s Eyes,” a Townes Van Zandt song, and a blistering version of “Automobile Blues” where he changed the melody.
The band closed with The Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait.” For an encore they did Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and “Harlem River Blues.”
Justin was on top of his game both with his playing and with his interaction with the audience. I just hope he starts taking care of himself again.
By Carene Lydia Lopez