There is something magic about six times wed Texan troubadour and author Steve Earle that draws local celebs to his gigs like those old moths to a flame.

On his first Australian tour the cast at his South Yarra Saloon after show party included Geelong footballers and latter day TV personalities Dwayne Russell and Bill Brownless.

On subsequent tours the pub purveyors included Seven Network sports legends and Nu Country DJS Sandy Roberts and Craig Willis and ex-Collingwood champion and Sydney Swans recruiting chief Rick Barham.

This time around on opening night we enjoyed the patronage of Barham and mate Pixie Gleeson - publican of Port Fairy country music HQ the Stump (oldest surviving pub in Victoria from 1844.)

Pixie left his chequebook home but rubbed shoulders with a comfortably crowded venue that also attracted a former Immigration Dept agent who arrested a fellow country music buff who had decamped while under a deportation order after allegedly killing his hooker wife in a crime of passion.

The expatriate Kiwi deportee registered his Kombi van under the name of former convict country star Merle Haggard and played Gram Parsons tapes as he zig-zagged through the outback.

Having lost the outlaw in the outback the agents waited at the home of a pastor whom the refugee visited on return to Melbourne to reveal his story to me for Australasian Post.

Steve Earle, with a colourful history of supporting unpopular and popular causes, is that sort of act.

So it was fitting on his fourth Australian tour, unencumbered by spouses, he fired both barrels at western warriors from his first floor stage, due south of the Gaza strip killing fields of Brunswick.

It was apt that after peace was declared in a five-song encore Earle surveyed troops in the seaside DMZ zone and felt safe enough to join them down in the basement.

At 49 he survives his own sorties with dope, booze and faded love and earns the right to be a strident social critic.

The only war fought here was the aural assault on an audience who may have loved the artist enough to follow him to consensual coition.

Luckily there were few casualties as the generic rock was but a small window in a sound wall that housed what it promised.

That was indeed fortuitous - as veteran country fans remarked anyone can create a rock noise fest but few can afford to bury lyrics as good as Earle's under such a camouflage.

There were two such aberrations at his opening night but luckily they were soon lots in the sands of battle and time.

And, with seasoned soldiers - guitarist Eric Roscoe Amble and bassist Kelly Looney - he had help escaping his sound bunker.

Steve Earle & Kelly Looney

Like an old time general, Earle and his Dukes fired their rock salvoes early in battle with Ashes To Ashes, Taneytown and songs whose titles and hooks were lost in the mix.

No such trouble when guns blazed in Devil's Right Hand, Guitar Town, I Feel Alright, Copperhead Road and The Rain Came Down, penned with Michael Woody of Woodys.

Earle's pacing was good - the hush for balladic Goodbye preceded a speech on the fall of Spain spreading to France and "getting rid of this mother fucker in my country" and Boy Howardy.

Steve reminded fans there was a "Stevedores strike" when he played POW on a previous tour as he introduced miners' anthem Harlan Man.

He confessed he wrote Jerusalem at the same locale and added mandolin and harmonica to Train A Coming, I Ain't Ever Satisfied, Go Amanda and token love ode More Than I Can Do.
OK, Galway Girl - one of several songs to benefit from mandolin mania - is a love epic of sorts.

The singer reminded us: "the ones who start the wars don't go, their kids don't go, the only way to stop them is to get out on the streets."

Not really a strategic manoeuvre to be practised frequently in certain parts of a city where Brunswick was once a proud farming area from about the time The Stump started life in Port Fairy as the Caledonian Hotel.

Having delivered John Walkers' Blues early in his theatre of war he loaded a peace quota in his energised encore with prophetic new song The Revolution Starts Now, Christmas In Washington and The Time Has Come with brother Patrick joining Will Rigby as duelling drummers.

Earle mainly used Epiphone guitars and Roscoe played Les Paul, Gibson, Gretch and an unidentified twelve string.

But the joyous peak was a trip back to 1963 for Youngbloods peace anthem Get Together and fitting finale - Nick Lowe's Peace, Love And Understanding.

Get Together, penned by Chet Powers, was lateral thinking by Earle and first time I have heard it in years by an international artist.

It was also solace for this writer who chose to catch Hoyt Axton in Santa Cruz on New Year's Eve, 1978, instead of the Get Together hit man Jesse Colin Young, due south at Monterey.

Steve Earle live at The Prince

Oklahoma born singing actor Axton, whose CV included 30 movies, seven TV series, a swag of hits and 23 albums from 1962, died from after effects of a previous stoke at 61 on October 26 in 1999 in Viktor, Montana.

But the memory of very much living Young, real name Perry Miller, lives on via Earle and The Dukes who triumphed at a venue named after a Pommy Prince.

And safely celebrating Earle in the POW basement was the brother of Attorney General Rob Hulls who only three days later would be suffering the defeat of Geelong at Princes Park - an oasis in the killing fields. - DAVID DAWSON

Photos by Anne Sydenham taken live at The Prince - 2/4/04

top / back to articles