TVD Live: Steve Earle and The Dukes with
The Mastersons at the Birchmere, 7/18

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | It’s a brash move to close out a show on one of the hottest days in the DC metro area with a song called “Christmas in Washington,” but Steve Earle’s career has been one of brash moves.

He started his generous show at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA., Tuesday with a handful of songs from an album that’s only been out a month, beginning with its title track, “So You Wanna be an Outlaw.” The collection followed an all blues and a lighter approach with Shawn Colvin on a duet album, he returned to ringing outlaw country, inspired by old Waylon Jennings and a couple of songs he had written for TV’s Nashville.

Backed by a stomping version of the Dukes that was sweetened by pedal steel and fiddle, he eventually brought in those early career anthems like “Guitar Town” and “The Galway Girl” (its bagpipe sounds courtesy of the keyboards). The Christmas song was less about the season and more about the chorus, “”Come back Woody Guthrie, come back to us now.” He had just lead a singalong “This Land is Your Land,” with its own new Trump Tower verse and Guthrie’s spirit was hanging in the air.

“Christmas in Washington” was written on another disappointing election 20 years earlier: The Democrats rehearsed getting into gear for four more years / Things not gettin’ worse / Republicans drink whiskey neat and thanked their lucky stars.

Politics was less a part of the show than might have been expected; Earle’s a lifelong outspoken activist who was on the Bernie bandwagon until the end. But songs like “City of Immigrants” rang true in the political atmosphere, coming just after the timeless declarations of “Jerusalem” (Joan Baez recorded both).

He apologized once again that he knew that “Taneytown,” also from the El Corazon album from which “Christmas in Washington” came, was actually pronounced TAW-ne-town in Maryland, and the sellout crowd forgave him.

The trouble with having a band backing is that there was less of that intimate finger-picking and pre-song narration of which Earle excels. It came later during the Guthrie reverie, but he also took time to talk about the heartfelt loss of songwriter Guy Clark earlier this year, which led to his new song “Goodbye Michelangelo.” As with Guthrie, it would have been further bolstered by doing one of Clark’s classics (he’s done a good job with “Desperados Waitin’ for a Train” in the past).

Earle mentioned more than once his most recent ex-wife Allison Moorer, particularly in boasting that he helped her finish the lovely song “News from Colorado” with Emily Earle, his niece, an artist who was on the third season of The Voice and, he added, “lasted four weeks and never ended up in Cee-Lo Green’s hot tub.” He saved the heaviest song for the end of the main set — his snarling post-murder “Fixin’ to Die,” whose themes, and sonics, were continued into another song about shooting one’s lady down, “Hey Joe.”

Keeping it all in the family, he had his Dukes guitarist and fiddling husband and wife team, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, opening the show as The Mastersons.

THE MASTERSONS

SETLIST
So You Wanna Be an Outlaw
Lookin’ for a Woman
The Firebreak Line
Walkin’ in LA
Sunset Highway
News from Colorado
Guitar Town
I’m Still in Love with You
You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had
Goodbye Michaelangelo
Jerusalem
City of Immigrants
You Broke My Heart
The Galway Girl
Little Emperor
Acquainted with the Wind
Copperhead Road
Taneytown
Hard Core Troubadour
Transcendental Blues
The Week of Living Dangerously
If Mama Coulda Seen Me
Fixin’ to Die
Hey Joe

The Girl on the Mountain
This Land is Your Land
Christmas in Washington

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