020201 Steve Earle & The Dukes, Ottawa, ON

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Aside from his monstrous hit of ’88 Copperhead Road I had lived a life almost wholly ignorant of Steve Earle until I saw him perform in a song-circle sort of concert at the National Arts Centre alongside John Prine, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris and a few others.  That was a great show so when Steve rolled through town a couple of months later on February 2nd, 2001 I decided to check it out.

This was the only time I saw a concert in this particular venue – sort of.  The show was at Lansdowne but it was held deep in the belly of the stadium somewhere that wasn’t quite the Civic Centre (the hockey rink that takes up the bulk of the bowels of the building), neither in size nor stature.  

The venue was in a carpeted salon area that I would eventually come to know as the home of Lansdowne’s annual Christmas craft sale but like I say this was the only time I saw a concert down there.  And no wonder; it’s not like the venue was ghetto or anything but the room was certainly lacking any sort of style, class, or pride.  I remember the band being set up on a short riser along the longest wall of the room – creating a shallow, wide audience-space – and performing under (can this be right?) the ceiling’s regular white fluorescent lights that might on another night illuminate a conference panel.  

I’m not sure how accurately my memory is serving me but I do know that the room exuded a definite air of non-coolness.  The band probably felt like they were playing a gig to promote the newest line of Ford minivans in the lobby of a Holiday Inn, or such is my often over-achieving memory of things.

That said, my memory would bet dollars to doughnuts that Steve Earle was as thin and gaunt as I’ve ever seen him at this show.  He looked to me like he had recently pulled up from a downward spiral, one that might have included some serious self-abuse, but at the same time he sounded good enough for me to start really respecting him as an artist.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t play Copperhead Road, which would have given him some immediate not-milking-his-hit-record cred, and while his growly almost-country almost-rock music didn’t hook me per se (in that it never sounded hook-oriented), it did consistently keep me interested.

Interested enough to go see Steve Earle pretty much every time I’ve gotten the chance since, which admittedly just means I’ve taken the time and effort on several occasions to saunter over to whatever stage he’s been playing on at one festival or another over the years, where I generally stand and respectfully listen to him play song after song that I like but don’t recognize.

Though I’m pretty sure I did hear hm play Copperhead Road at least once somewhere along the way.

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