Published Sep 13, 2018Two years after he visited Ottawa in support of his Guitar Town anniversary tour, Steve Earle returned to the nation's capital to celebrate yet another milestone. Opening the 2018 edition of CityFolk Festival with an ungodly 6 p.m. time slot, the Texan musician helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of his wildly-popular (especially in Canada) LP, Copperhead Road.
Stepping on stage with his five-piece band, the Dukes, Earle was decked out in full bandit gear, sporting a camo vest, round sunglasses and a white bandana tied across his forehead. Glaring at the growing audience, Earle ripped into the album's title track while gripping a traveller's guitar.
Performing Copperhead Road in succession, Earle and the Dukes stuck mainly to the script, rarely jamming, improvising or even throwing a glance towards one another. But it was Earle's animated storytelling that helped ramp up the energy of the crowd, including the in-rhythm speech about dealing with his current president that appropriately kicked off "Snake Oil," and a lengthy tale about buying a Cadillac with John Mellencamp guitarist Larry Crane, to introduce, "Once You Love."
After a tight rendition of the Pogues-inspired "Johnny Come Lately," Earle announced to the festivalgoers that side one: "The Political Side" was finished and he was ready to present side two, "The Songs About Chicks." Playing rarely performed tracks like "You Belong to Me" and "Waiting on You," Earle and the Dukes seemed stiff, laboured and low-energy.
Closing off Copperhead Road with the Christmas song "Nothing But a Child" (featuring another extended intro), Steve realized that he only had 20 minutes left in his 75-minute set, quickly flying through fan favourite "Guitar Town" before berating his band for not switching over fast enough to perform "I Ain't Ever Satisfied."
Lightening up a bit and receiving a huge response for dedicating 2000's "Galway Girl" to "the Ottawa Valley people," Earle once again lost his cool, yelling "Stupid asshole" at an unidentified member of his band or crew. Closing with his cover of the Jimi Hendrix version of the Leaves "Hey Joe," Earle and the Dukes unleashed their pent-up energy, as guitarist Chris Masterson shredded his guitar and Earle changed the lyrics to let everyone know that he was "Moving way down south… before that asshole builds that wall."
Although he had to battle the clock and an unsavoury set time, the 63-year-old outlaw nonetheless gave the Ottawa crowd a look into the unapologetic and passionate persona that is Steve Earle.