by Matt Meade
Justin Townes Earle couldn’t keep the crowd’s attention.
Earle was doing nothing wrong, per se, but he was unable to engage the crowd. He was dressed just right and he had a side man who played the lap pedal steel, or as I like to call it, the Theremin for cool people. The songs were well crafted, the banter in between should have been compelling. He was telling stories about his broken heart, about the ways his songs had been mis-interpreted, and how he told his label “to go fuck themselves.” And still, he couldn’t get anyone to care.
And don’t get me wrong. He is good. And he was good last night.
He yowled with the best of them and played a couple pretty decent blues tunes, but no one could really be bothered with him. Maybe everyone was waiting for him to have another on stage temper tantrum / meltdown, like he’s gotten a reputation for, and the fact that he wasn’t delivering bored the schadenfreude hungry crowd. Maybe no one could take him seriously because his side man looked like Bill Hader doing a caricature of a sideman on SNL. Whatever the reason, the set was polite, starting promptly at 10pm and ending exactly at 11pm, and everyone seemed more comfortable after he left.
While myself and my fellow concert-goers talked about leaving, a band of vagrants took the stage and started thumping the crap out of the ramshackle equipment that had been left on the stage. It turns out that the gutter punks on the stage, making up a hoe-down as they went along, were called The Felice Brothers, and even though they weren’t on the Marquee for the Concord, or on the website, or the tickets, they were somehow the “headline” act.
A band from the Catskills playing a blend of country, rock and Americana, The Felice Brothers have been around since 2006 and have several albums available. Apparently they are signed to Fat Possum records and are currently on a national tour.
I was unaware of this band before yesterday evening, but they introduced themselves by singing songs about boxers, whiskey, and giving a girl a string of pearls. They were just gross enough, the guitar solos just rudimentary enough, the lyrics just incomprehensible enough to overcome some of the affectations they had borrowed from another rustic band from upstate new York who featured alternating vocalists and a multi-instrumentalist who transitioned back and forth from playing the keys to an accordion.
By looking at them, I couldn’t tell if the music geeks had enlisted the help of their drug dealers, or if the meth addicts had some dirt on the music geeks, blackmailing them into joining their band, but whatever the case, they were having just enough fun for me to believe they were the real deal. And I wasn’t the only one. The crowd, who had been so dismissive of Earle, embraced this band and lifted their arms in the air, clapped their hands and sang along to songs they’d never even heard before.
It just proves that you can be doing everything right, but if you aren’t using the right delivery system, you’ll never get over. It turns out that being children who shake off the exhaustion incurred by their own myth making to leap around the stage, foot stomping, and cheersing the crowd, is the right way to get the message out.