Justin Townes Earle at The Crown and Anchor

Adelaideans have long lamented the number of international acts we miss out on from year to year. Not so with Justin Townes Earle, who not only includes our fine little town in his tour itinerary, but also plays intimate pub gigs instead of overpriced stadiums. Supported by local country rockers The Bitter Darlings, and fellow Southerner Joshua Hedley, Justin Townes Earle dropped by the Cranka for a mid-week special, backed up by the inimitable Paul Niehaus on lap steel and guitar.

Setting the tone for a soulful evening in the Cranka’s well-loved ballroom, front man for The Bitter Darlings, Marcello Cole, let his soul do the talking, embracing the crowd with his vocals, rough edged and rich. Bandmate Nicholas Cioffi provided a perfect counterpoint with his superb guitar work, winding intricate harmonies around lyrics that immortalise South Australian towns and highways. The duo dressed the part in cowboy shirts and boots, and left the punters dreaming of their next hit of Tex Perkins magnetism and Johnny Cash tenderness. Country rock and blues to the bone, these boys did Adelaide proud.

Joshua Hedley is Nashville through and through. He wears a big hat, a big belt buckle, and a big attitude. And he don’t take no mess, having to silence rude punters with good grace and humour not once but twice throughout his set. With a voice smoother than molasses and twice as sweet, the crowd were transported from our little pub to the Grand Ole Opry. Joshua Hedley is a prolific singer-songwriter, taking the opportunity to treat us to three songs he had written while staying in Adelaide, as well as a Willie Nelson cover, and the classic love song ‘Sweet Memories’. While the accent and the outfit saw quite a number of fans swooning – he even had crisp line pressed into the front of his trousers- what will stay with me is the craftsmanship of a country superstar on the rise. One to watch.

The main drawcard approached the stage through the crowd in his usual manner; humble, warm, understated. Justin Townes Earle wore triple denim and spectacles, unassuming as he approached the microphone. Sexy as hell and with a wicked sense of humour, Justin has always been a darling with Australian audiences. Treating us to no less than nineteen tunes, and peppering his set with anecdotes and the odd dirty joke, this gig was yet another triumph for the rebel kid made good. Standout songs included Townes Earle’s tribute to Billie Holiday, ‘White Gardenias’, and crowd favourite, ‘Mama’s Eyes’, but the eclectic set also included a Paul Simon cover.

Played through the Cranka’s bass-loving stacks, Justin Townes Earle was in fine voice, while Paul Niehaus provided faultless support vocals and lap steel accompaniment. Vocal harmonies enriched Townes Earle’s ordinarily solitary compositions, and by the end of the set the punters were feeling sentimental and softly singing along. We filed into the cool spring twilight singing the ‘Harlem River Blues’. Adelaide may not draw all the big names, but I’d take a pub gig over a stadium any day. Where else can you share a joke with the headliner on the side of the road? A show like this promises to stay with you and keep you warm on lonely nights. Unforgettable.

Words by Heather McGinn.

 

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