Concert Review: Steve Earle at The Crossroads in Kansas City, MO 7/9/13

Steve Earle poster from The Crossroads in Kansas City on 7/9/13.

Steve Earle is a flat-out legend. If he never made a new album again he would go down in history as one of the best songwriters in his genre of all time. Still, with his all his great songs from a career decades long he put his new album, The Low Highway, front and center at his show at the Crossroads in Kansas City, playing all 12 songs off the record.

It is always refreshing to see an artist have that kind of confidence in their newest work and not rely so much on the past. Earle did have a little different perspective though; he played all the hits too. A 33 song set clocking in at about 2 hours and 20 minutes covered not only all of The Low Highway but songs from almost every one of his albums as well.

The show would start on a hot night outdoors evening with the sun still hitting the stage. Steve Earle and The Dukes would appear from the backstage area to a less than overwhelming crowd and reception. It was a Tuesday in July in Kansas City but it was still overall a weak showing of support for the hardcore troubadour. This could have been a case where a venue too large was booked for a show though; If the same amount of people would have been packed in a smaller indoor venue it might have had a much different feel. This incarnation of The Dukes would feature female vocalist/violinist Eleanor Whitmore, ace guitarist Chris Masterson, Will Rigby on drums and longtime bass player Kelley Looney.

Earle would grab an acoustic guitar and slowly strum his way into the lead song of the set and lead song off his new album with “The Low Highway” before bursting in much more lively “21st Century Blues” with the classic line “Where the hell is my flying cars?” The sloppy stomp of “Calico County” would be next before Earle would play some older tunes for a bit with “Taneytown” and “Hard Core Troubadour” reassuring the crowd it wouldn’t be all new music on this night.

Steve Earle took on both songs from his entire catalog and his complete new album The Low Highway at The Crossroads in Kansas City, Missouri on 7/9/13.

Steve Earle took on both songs from his entire catalog and his complete new album The Low Highway at The Crossroads in Kansas City, Missouri on 7/9/13.

As the sun would start to hide behind The Crossroads’ high wooden plank fences, Earle’s set would continue to hit new songs hard with the bouncy and upbeat “That All You Got?” and “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way” with an impressive violin solo included by Whitmore. Earle would switch instruments several times throughout the evening which was foreshadowed by his arsenal of about 25-30 guitars, mandolins, banjos and violins on the side of the stage. Earle’s flannel shirt with cut-off sleeves would continue to collect sweat as the evening wore on and he would take little time in between songs before hitting his next number. He would even step to the front of the stage for a short harp solo during “I Thought You Should Know” that would have been much better if not for a few sound issues during the song.

As Earle would sit down at a piano to play “After Mardi Gras” an audience member would yell for “Copperhead Road” and Earle would noticeably roll his eyes which was followed by a small laugh from the crowd. He would explain “I used to drink a lot, and when I drank a lot, I did a lot of stupid shit.” Again, the crowd would laugh as he pinpointed this for his failed attempts at doing things like speaking Spanish and on this song, playing piano. He would appease the crowd shortly after by playing his two biggest hits “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” ending the requests he has to hear likely every night.

Violinist/second bassist Eleanor Whitmore with her orange flowery dress and glowing red hair would play the part of Lucinda Williams on the great duet “You’re Still Standing There” with the legendary songwriter. Earle would then speak modestly of his ability to play the banjo as well before taking on the appropriate “Warren Hellman’s Banjo” with that instrument. The main set would end with “The Galway Gal” and both “Down The Road II” from his new album and the original “Down The Road” from 1986’s Guitar Town.

Steve Earle & The Dukes closing out their set at The Crossroads in Kansas City, Missouri on 7/9/13. Left to right: Eleanor Whitmore, Chris Masterson, Steve Earle and Kelley Looney. Drummer Will Rigby is obscured by Masterson.

Steve Earle & The Dukes closing out their set at The Crossroads in Kansas City, Missouri on 7/9/13. Left to right: Eleanor Whitmore, Chris Masterson, Steve Earle and Kelley Looney. Drummer Will Rigby is obscured by Masterson.

The first of two encores would feature “City of Immigrants” off the very underrated 2007 album Washington Square Serenade and the best guitar solo of the night would be turned in by ace guitarist Chris Masterson during “My Old Friend The Blues” and the crowd would happily sing along with the infectious “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.” The second encore would have a rockabilly theme as the band would come out and shamefully cover The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Earle likely has written about 50 songs better than this so it was disappointing to see it show up in the setlist. The group would reach back as far in Earle’s catalog as you can go and play the rockabilly singles “Nothin’ But You” and “Continental Trailways Blues” before retiring after the political “The Revolution Starts Now.”

The 33 song set from the 58 year old songwriter was surprising to see, but it gave him a chance to display his new material alongside of all the songs 90% of the crowd came to hear. His voice may not have been as strong as it once was and a few lyric mash-ups would occur but the show wouldn’t disappoint for anybody. At this point for an icon of this stature to be playing so many shows and for a fan to be able to easily get within the first about 10 rows to see him is a truly special thing. Playing shows like this is simply what the man does and likely will always do, after watching him it appears it is the only thing he ever wants to do.

Steve Earle setlist from The Crossroads in Kansas City, MO on 7/9/13:

  • The Low Highway
  • 21st Century Blues
  • Calico County
  • Taneytown
  • Hard Core Troubadour
  • I Thought You Should Know
  • That All You Got?
  • Love’s Gonna Blow My Way
  • After Mardi Gras
  • Pocket Full of Rain
  • This City
  • Ben McCulloch
  • You’re Still Standin’ There
  • Invisible
  • Burnin’ It Down
  • Guitar Town
  • Copperhead Road
  • Free Men (Kelly Looney song)
  • Warren Hellman’s Banjo
  • Little Emperor
  • Billy and Bonnie
  • Mystery Train Part II
  • The Galway Girl
  • Down the Road Part II
  • Down the Road
  • encore
  • Remember Me
  • City of Immigrants
  • My Old Friend the Blues
  • I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
  • encore
  • Wild Thing (The Troggs cover)
  • Nothin’ But You
  • Continental Trailways Blues
  • The Revolution Starts Now
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