Live: Justin Townes Earle + The Tarantula Waltz at Kägelbanan, Stockholm 2011.11.17
words by Johan Alm
I discovered the music of Justin Townes Earle only days after his last gig in Stockholm, in early 2009 around the release of his second full-length Midnight at the Movies, and since then he’s released Harlem River Blues, his best record to date, and he just finished his fourth record before going on the short European tour that this gig was a part of. Earle’s music has often been overshadowed in the media by the fact that he’s the son of Steve Earle plus Justin’s well-documented alcohol and drug problems, but he was on his best behavior during the concert, showing that his music is far more interesting than all the other stuff together.
Opening for the night was the Swedish singer-songwriter Markus Svensson who goes by the name The Tarantula Waltz. The Tarantula Waltz is Svensson’s creative vehicle and often includes other band members as well, but tonight Svensson performed solo acoustically. As far as I’m concerned The Tarantula Waltz is one of the most interesting Swedish acts at the moment, and this was the fourth time I saw him live, the third one as a solo act, so I knew what I was getting.
The Tarantula Waltz played for roughly half an hour, performing a set that consisted only of unreleased tracks, just like the last time I saw him, tracks that will appear on The Tarantula Waltz’s upcoming third LP, which will be released in spring 2012. Judging by these tracks the album is going to be something special, and The Tarantula Waltz delivered live as usual, performing a very good set with excellent singing and guitarplaying. It wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen by him, and I feel that the music benefits from the extra options that a backing band brings, but as usual the standard was very high.
After a short break Justin Townes Earle entered the stage, armed with only an acoustic guitar and a bottle of water, and during the hour long set he certainly showed what an incredible performer he is. As Earle is releasing a new album on February 28, which hasn’t been properly announced yet by the way, he chose to open the gig with a brand new track before going back through his catalogue throughout the set. Since Earle was performing without any backing musicians the songs were trimmed down to their purest country form, which on one hand shows what an amazing songwriter he is but it also makes his catalogue appear more one-sided than he actually is.
The set was extremely well-received by the audience, and for good reason – there’s few artists who can command a stage for over an hour by themselves without the audience at least partly losing interest, but Earle had no such problems at all. The set saw Earle performing large parts of last year’s excellent Harlem River Blues as well as performing several new tracks, a couple of older ones as well as an excellent Lightnin’ Hopkins cover, with my personal highlight being a touching rendition of “Christchurch Woman”.
Besides “Christchurch Woman” the other highlight of the gig was the many new songs that were performed, all of them being very good - they certainly made me expect Earle’s upcoming album to once again be his best release so far. Earle jokingly called the album his “daddy issues”-record and revealed that it’s scheduled for a February 28 release. The tracks he performed were stronger and more personal than most of his back catalogue, making me extremely excited for the album.
Ultimately it was a very good gig, and Justin Townes Earle showed why his music is what really should be given attention rather than his personal life, as he is one of the most talented alt. country songwriters and performers of his generations. My only complaint would be that he didn’t play Harlem River Blues standout “Rogers Park”, but all things considered that’s a very minor thing, and as he promised to be back “sooner rather than later” I’ll have another chance soon enough.