I first came across Steve Earle back in the mid-eighties when he was grouped in with the likes of Dwight Yoakam and Nanci Griffith in what was heralded as “new” country. In truth the artists had little in common, Yoakam was a throwback to a more traditional country sound albeit with a new coat of paint, while Griffith was as much folk as country. And Earle? Well he’s been a rocker, a folk singer but back then he was as close as he’s ever come to mainstream country, occupying a middle ground between county and the working class roots rock of Springsteen, Mellencamp. and Petty.
It would be fair to say that Earle has matured as an artist in the twenty years since this concert was recorded but even back then he was a great live performer. Under the constraints of the television cameras he takes a few songs to loosen up and with the hour long gig edited down into a half hour TV show there’s little time to chat with the audience. In fact there’s barely time to catch a breath as Earle and The Dukes cram seventeen songs into just over an hour.
Most of the set is culled from his breakthrough album Guitar Town and its follow up Exit O. Standouts include “Little Rock ‘N’ Roller” which works far better live than it does on record, it's still a cheesy song but here it's obviously a heartfelt cheesy song, best of all though is “The Week of Living Dangerously” a wonderfully humorous tale of a wayward husband's trip south of the border that seemed to be a favourite of not just the audience but Earle as well. It’s one of those songs that make you smile whenever you hear it.
We’re also treated to one old song and a cover. The old song, from his pre-Guitar Town days, is “The Devil’s Right Hand.” It’s a cautionary tale of gun worship that ranks among the singers best work and probably the only one from that period of his career that still gets performed regularly. Its message is as relevant today as ever although I’m not sure the Texas audience really took to it.
Which leaves the cover version and it’s a song that shows even more how close Earle was to the mainstream rock crowd. “State Trooper” originally appeared on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album with a very sparse arrangement, Earle, though, gives it the full band treatment without loosing the song's air of desperation. Many of Earle’s songs of the period have a Springsteen feel to them so it’s no surprise he does such a good job on "State Trooper."
This DVD isn’t really a true representation of Earle live, it would need to be double the running time for that. It does provide a snapshot of one of the most important songwriters of his generation at an early point in his development and it offers an hours worth of classic country-rock.
The concert is presented 4:3 as it was filmed. The picture is a little soft but that has more to do with the source material than any fault with the transfer. In fact, it probably looks better here than it did when broadcast.
You get two choices Dolby Digital Stereo or 5.1 Surround. The latter is the preferred option as by moving the crowd noise to the rear speakers it allows more breathing room for the music. Spread across the front three speakers each instrument sounds clear with the only complaint being a slight deficiency in the bass department.
None at all, unless you count the ability to select an individual song an extra.