Review: Head over heels for Justin Townes Earle

5 Sep 2012 @ 9.01 am
| Entertainment

York promoter Joe Coates is fast developing a reputation for putting on some of the best new music around. Guided by impeccable taste – and a keen ear for a great band – his Please Please You set-up regularly enlivens the city’s gig scene with scorching hot indie bands, rootsy Americana acts and enchanting alt-folk delights at the Duchess, Fibbers and Stereo. Once in a while Please Please You ventures further afield. YorkMix reviewer Grace Clarke braved the wilds beyond our city walls, with a first trip to the hallowed ground of The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds to catch Joe’s latest triumph with Justin Townes Earle, ably supported by York’s own Boss Caine…

Review: Justin Townes Earle, Gabriel Minnikin, Boss Caine
Venue: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, September 1, 2012

Leeds city centre on a Saturday night. Fluorescent pink hen parties, fake tanned legs, and far too much hairspray. Not at The Brudenell. If you ever felt like you were born years too late – or other soulless venues have left you cold – go to The Brudenell and feel at home.

The Brudenell, to some, is nothing special. It is, after all, essentially a social club. It has the ceiling tiles of a primary school canteen, dirty red bingo hall chairs, and a healthy collection of fairy lights.

The stage looms in the corner, dominating the room. No matter where you find yourself, you’ll have a great view. The Brudenell is timeless, and it’s attracting some incredible artists.

This week we saw Justin Townes Earle. When you’re just getting into an artist I find it’s best to see them live early on, before you really know the songs. You’ll listen to them in a different way afterwards.

No prizes for guessing that Justin’s father is formerly drug-addled country troubadour Steve Earle. They certainly sound similar, although he probably hates being compared to the man who’s become the less than desirable centre to songs such as Mama’s Eyes and Am I That Lonely Tonight?

Justin Townes Earle… "he's country, he's the blues, he's soul". Photograph: Facebook
On these, his most revealing songs, his pure voice gives way to gravel, further highlighting their poignancy. He’s country, he’s the blues, he’s soul. He has an eternal affection for Woody Guthrie and pure, traditional music.

He adopts and adapts traditional tunes to convey his message, as in They Killed John Henry. His voice and the guitar bond together like one continuous stream; you don’t need a band when you sound like this alone.

I’m a Ryan Adams fan, and they aren’t a million miles apart. Except, he’s replaced the cat-themed anecdotes with candid comments about his parentage, his views on the changes in country music, and women. He seems to use music to process life.

Then again, I suppose that’s what music is for most of us.

He was supported by Boss Caine. A York outfit, tonight consisting of Dan Lucas and violinist Kieran O’Malley.

I’ve heard Dan a few times, he’s got a great raspy voice. Not as raspy as Tom Waits, but in the same vein. I’d never heard him perform with a violin before tonight and it was wonderful. The contrast between Dan’s voice and the tone of the violin worked beautifully.

Boss Caine, featuring Dan Lucas's "great raspy voice". Photograph: Rob Scott
They were followed by Gabriel Minnikin. A less than successful attempt at recreating the sound of Springsteen’s Nebraska with a collection of uninspiring, repetitive songs. I found it disappointing and dull.

Unfortunately, a great voice isn’t everything. If the songs aren’t good, it’s not going to work. Note to self: don’t get too excited when a curly haired man steps to the mic armed with only a guitar and a harmonica, it’s not always going to make your day.

All in all this was a great night, I’m head over heels for Justin Townes Earle, Boss Caine continue to impress me and I know to avoid Gabriel Minnikin in future. Above all, I’ve experienced the underrated brilliance of The Brudenell. I can’t do it justice, just go and see for yourself.