Steve Earle, not selling shoes at La Zona Rosa (Photo By John Carrico)
Steve Earle, Matthew Ryan
La Zona Rosa, November 10
'Twas a night of young and old, a transgenerational songwriters' showcase matching the up-and-coming Matthew Ryan with the been-round-the-block Steve Earle. Ryan, 28, lent his atmospheric rasp to a set of thinking man's songs, running the emotional gamut from anguished to weary to dismayed. Call it overtortured. Ryan clearly didn't like all the chatter in the room, and seemed willing to confront the audience not only for their lack of manners, but also for any stray optimism or genuine cheer that might be running around unchecked in their heads. As Krusty the Clown once observed: "Angry. Angry young man." If Ryan sounded weary, headliner Steve Earle looked it: Every time he rolls through town, Earle seems to have aged five years. With his accountant's glasses, gently receding hairline, and smart red button-down, Earle looked more like a shoe salesman dressed in his Saturday night go-to-dance duds than the drug-addled rock star of Copperhead Road
. But while Earle looked a little soft around the edges, he came out determined to prove he still had some rock in his 45-year-old bones. Earle and his bandmates kept chests rattling all night, hitting a number of raucous Earle standards and throwing in covers that ranged from Nirvana to the Rolling Stones. For all of the flashing lights, thumping drums, and soaring Eric Ambel guitar solos, fans of the more contemplative Earle may have wondered just how they stumbled into an Aerosmith concert. If so, they had a legitimate gripe; Earle is at his best with the slower, more emotional stuff, as he proved on the death row elegy "Over Yonder" and the election blues "Christmas in Washington." If he was glad to be in Austin ("this is one of the few places that people play my fuckin' songs on the radio," he opened with a grin), it didn't always seem so. In fact, there were moments when Earle appeared more bored than energized by the sonic bluster he had created. Just four days out of Nashville and already tired of the road. So it seemed, so it seemed, but when push came to shove, Earle rocked. And rolled. Did it for damn near two and a half hours, too, without a break, charging hard and finishing up with more kick than he came in with. Not bad for an old man.