Abetted by opener Caitlin Rose, the
Earle-Isbell express rolled into the Aladdin Theatre in Portland, Ore.,
on October 5 and blew the lights out.
By Tim Hinely
bill on a rainy Wednesday evening in Portland. I caught Caitlin Rose’s last few Portland stops (both at
the Doug Fir) and both were quite charming due to Rose’s aw shucks nature and
great sense of humor (and gorgeous voice, too). Here she had the full band (a
combo of the two bands I had seen previously) and played most of the songs off
of her latest full-length (Own Side Now). She seemed to win the crowd over by the set’s
end, many of whom didn’t know who saw.
Up next was
former Drive by Trucker Jason Isbell who played this time with the same lineup
he had previously minus guitarist Browan Lollar. The previous set wasn’t
necessarily bad but on this night Isbell and Co. owned the stage. Blasting out a 45 minute set of pure guts, heart
and determination. While the rest of the band including bassist Jimbo Hart,
keyboardist Derry Deborja and drummer Matt Pence all got down and dirty it was
Isbell himself who definitely seemed to be in more of a zone on this night.
Whether he was strumming his acoustic guitar with folkier material or he was
cranking out Hendrix-esque leads (there was more of the latter, plus they
covered Jimi’s “Stone Free” as an encore) he was on on this Wednesday night. Prior to the Hendrix encore they wowed
the crowd with a cover of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” and a killer version of
their own “Codeine.” Suffice it to say,
don’t miss ‘em next time they’re in your neck of the woods.
It was a new
lineup since the last time I caught J.T.E., too. Though I missed him last year
at Mississippi Studios (sold out) I had caught him the previous year at Doug
Fir where he was aided only by a banjo player Corey. This time, the
well-dressed Earle (love the bow tie sir) was flanked by a flaming red-haired
violin player (didn’t catch her name) on one side and stand-up bassist Bryn
Davies (decked out in 50’s style platform shoes and a lovely print dress) on
the other. The set was mostly tunes from his latest record Harlem River Blues as well as a few new songs and a few from his
previous record Midnight at the Movies. The real standouts on this night were “They
Killed John Henry”, “Halfway to Jackson”, “Workin’ for the MTA” (just J.T.E and
his acoustic guitar, minus the two ladies), “Christchurch Woman” and a packed
house for “Harlem River Blues’ in which most members of the two opening bands
came out and joined J.T.E. on stage and added handclaps and backing vocals, a
special moment in the set.
Earle is a
unique performer, he has his own guitar playing style as well as his little
strut across the stage and will always tell a story in between songs. At one
point near the beginning of the set, Earle was telling a story to which a
heckler yelled out “Whatever!” and Earle shot back, “Whatever? What are we, in
fuckin’ middle school?!” to which the crowd roared with laughter and the
heckler suddenly got quiet. Earle had the crowd eating out of his hand and it’s
easy to see why, he’s charismatic, talented and he improves with each record
and each new tour. Forget being Steve’s son, he’s the real deal on his own.