Thursday, 12 April 2012

Justin Townes Earle at the Regal Ballroom

Last night I went along to the Regal Ballroom in Northcote for Justin Townes Earle's concert.  He is a recent discovery for me - stumbled upon while wandering around on itunes  (itunes is a great way to discover new music, but that's probably a subject for another post) and I've had Harlem River Blues constantly playing since I discovered him.

I bought my ticket late last year as soon as the tour was announced.  That's how excited I was.

Sadly, I left disappointed, but no less in love with Justin Townes Earle as an artist.  There were a few problems.  The biggest problem was the sound.  The Regal Ballroom in Northcote is a big barn of a room, but that shouldn't make a big difference.  Vocals struggled to be heard over the rhythm guitar and the double bass sounded muddy with no articulation.  Such a shame!  The lyrics are wonderful and the double bass has some fast riffs where it only works if the articulation is clear.  On the one song where the bow came out, it sounded great!  It could have been a player problem, but it didn't feel like that.

Waiting for the headline act at Northcote's Regal Ballroom.

The other problem was the lack of a sense of a coherent ensemble.  There were three outstanding musicians on stage but there were moments where it felt like they were struggling to play together.  They really needed a drummer!  The mandolin and lead guitar were beautifully played and I really like Justin's style of rhythm guitar but it just wasn't together.  Justin Townes Earle said that he usually didn't tour with a full band and would never go far from where he started - being a songwriter, singing his own songs while accompanying himself on guitar.  It's possible that the band also had sound problems and couldn't hear themselves properly.

His costume surprised me - tweed jacket, tie, jeans, shirt, preppy spectacles and floppy hair which made him look like a nervous university student going to dinner with his girlfriend's parents for the first time.  (This was a big contrast to the audience, a lot of whom were decked out in western shirts, boots and rockabilly hair, men and women alike.)

Despite these problems, there is still something wonderful about hearing music you love played live and seeing the artist stand before you.

The crowd reception was lukewarm and as I walked out I could hear people expressing disappointment, so I know it wasn't just me.

The disco ball seemed a little out of place for the honky tonk, hillbilly show.

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