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Steve Earle and the Dukes (& Duchess)

Gawain Barker checks out Steve Earle and the Dukes (And Duchess) at the Tanks.

Steve Earle brings a lot to the stage with him. There’s the 19 album career spanning four decades, the 14 nominations & 3 wins for Grammy awards. There’s his part pioneering a potent new mix of country, rock and traditional music which has since been described as or new country. There’s the amazing relationship with legend Townes van Zandt in Nashville. There’s the poems and short stories, his novel and play. His acting in The Wire and Treme. And there’s his bad boy reputation replete with politics, drugs and seven marriages.  But the really cool thing he brings to the stage at The Tanks in Cairns is his fantastic band The Dukes (& Duchess)

Sure,  Steve is the man and these are his songs but the group dynamic was great -it really was a band playing together with all the interplay and groove that comes with that. It never felt like watching a “star” with a faceless backing vehicle. These effortlessly talented musicians all come from the USA’s south -Texas, Nashville, North Carolina, and you could surely hear that soul.

This current incarnation of The Dukes contains some beautiful players, the stand out being vocalist and fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore who played so sweetly at times it was as if honey was flowing down from the heavens like sunbeams. She sang the duets with Mr. Earle and helped create some wondrous harmonies. The rhythm section just nailed it again and again giving the formidable play list real oomph. Time and time again as the first bars of a song rang out fans yelled with delight, looking around with delighted recognition. Many of Steve Earle’s songs are decades old and have truly been part of peoples lives. And he had so many like this! He played a few songs off his new album and even an unreleased new track as his second encore, but it really felt like a greatest hits show in many ways.

The diversity of the music was a hell treat. From sweaty New Orleans grooves to punky New York swagger. From high lonesome country to stadium sized rock’n’roll.  From the old Irish to tale-spinning folk and many points in between, the breadth of the playing was immense. We were spirited away along the authentic byways of America. The musicians oozed some real country,  playing some of the sweetest old school country music I’ve ever heard, conjuring up likes of The Louvin Brothers, Jimmie Rodgers & Ernest Tubbs. They really were feeling it and that sense of authenticity was one of the best things about the show. They weren’t paying homage to anything -they were it.

The band certainly swung with great grooves many spiced some with well funky fiddle riffs. Even the classic honky tonk country songs had bums wagging. Unfortunately like some old nana The Tanks management choose to have seating right at the front of the stage. For this particular artist it was ill thought-out move. His audience might be older but a lot of ’em wanted to move to the dirty get-back boogie..

The night was thoroughly enjoyed by a sold out crowd with many people, myself included, hearing some of these classic songs for the very first time. Great he has such a big back catalogue to explore. Steve Earle is a hard-core troubadour, almost an elder statesman and it was invigorating to the max, to share a few hours with this heart-felt man, his music and truly fabulous band.