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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Steve Earle Live at Montreux 2005
Steve Earle Live at Montreux 2005
Eagle Vision // Unrated // August 22, 2006
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Louis Howard | posted September 3, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Something of an artist that defies musical definition, Steve Earle blends whatever types of music he feels necessary in order to convey what he wants to say as a singer/songwriter. His indefinable sound might have its roots in both Nashville and rock and roll but for the most part has left record labels scratching their heads, sadly keeping his work out of the mainstream market. Born in Virginia but raised in San Antonio, Texas, he began playing guitar at age 11 and as is the case with many a young musician, had a wild side that kept him in trouble with the law and out of the popularity of local country fans. Dropping at of school and leaving home, at age 18 his path crossed with Townes Van Zandt, a musical madman in his own right who became Earle's role model. At 19 he moved to Nashville and began his career writing songs and playing bass for Guy Clark, playing on Clark's first album and over the next several years making connections in the industry.

After tiring of Nashville he moved back to Texas, forming his own band and playing local gigs. In the early 80's some of his songs began gaining success in the catalogs of other artists; Johnny Lee took Earle's "When You Fall In Love" to number 14 on the country charts in 1982, and legendary Carl Perkins cut Earle's "Mustang Wine". Steve made his first record that same year, an EP called "Pink & Black" and recorded for Epic records with little in the way of success. In 1985 he signed with MCA and the following year released "Guitar Town" which gained the attention of rock critics who saw the obvious similarities to the style of performers such as John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. "Guitar Town" became a hot with two top 10 singles, the title track and "Goodbye's All We Got Left". He recorded a second album later in the year but with fame was also coming personal turmoil. Amidst all this came one failed marriage after another- he married wife number six (there would later come a seventh) during this time in which he his substance abuse was becoming ever more prevalent.

In 1988, Earle released "Copperhead Road", which was quickly embraced by rock radio and gave him a top 10 single in the charts. During this period his fame grew in Europe which he often toured. Due to some problems with his recording company- Uni, a division of MCI- much of the monies he had coming from sales never materialized; his addictions worsened and his life became ever more fraught with personal troubles. In 1990 he released "The Hard Way", acclaimed by critics but not finding an audience in country or rock. Other than releasing a live album, his recoding career languished amid a period where Earle sank into heroin and cocaine use, culminating in a 1994 arrest in Nashville for possession and subsequent sentence of a year in jail; rather than do the time he served in a rehab house and at last became sober. In 1995 came the acoustic release "Train a Comin'" and after that "I Feel Alright" which regained him much of the country audience he had lost. His next two albums- :The Mountain", and "Transcendental Blues" built on that following, enough so that Earle took a stronger political stance in 2002's "Jerusalem" which focused on Earle's feelings on the way America's politicians rule. While controversial, Earle defended his material in several venues, and in 2003 his tour for the "Jerusalem" sessions were released in the form of both a live album and concert film, "Just An American Boy". In 2004 he continued speaking out in song with "The Revolution Starts...Now", focusing in part on the Bush administration and the Iraq war.

Thus at age 50 we see on the Montreux stage a man who has lived all manner of ups and downs, unafraid of sharing with his audience what life has thrown at him along the way, as well as speaking out on the wrongs and ironies he views in the world today. He has spoken of mentor Van Zandt with awe and reverence, but in terms of songwriting one would be hard pressed to see Earle in any lesser light.

Listed here is a setlist of the performance-

1. Jerusalem
2. What's a Simple Man to Do
3. The Devil's Right Hand
4. Warrior
5. Rich Man's War
6. South Nashville Blues
7. CCKMP
8. Dixieland
9. Ellis Unit One
10. Condi Condi
11. The Mountain
12. The Revolution Starts Now
13. Copperhead Road
14. Christmas in Washington

A 65 minute performance, the stage setup is simple- just Earle and his acoustic guitar with nothing in the way of accompaniment. Indeed, this works very well for an artist such as Steve Earle with so much of his material needing no more than a microphone with which to weave stark, insightful tales that most always spotlight the everyday, working class man on the street and the sins committed against him. His music plays as something akin to folk while implementing country, rock and bluegrass in dollops here and there; one gets the impression of watching a craftsman at work, clearing away the fat and cutting to the aural meat of the songs he writes and then takes to the stage for display. Like many of his contemporaries, he may have happened upon one hugely successful song that was in the right place at the right time (in this case Copperhead Road) but isn't likely to so to that extent again, not because his material is lacking by any means- rather, his songs aren't ones that will get much airplay, due in large part to their sometimes leftist, non-commercial nature. What is likely is Earle will continue to build on his long career with with a notable degree of success, having won over a large core audience that will probably remain fans and buy whatever he releases in the years to come. His considerable talents deserve more than that, but such is the nature of the music business.

Both delicate in their lyricism yet rough hewn in their bite, Earle can keep an audience entertained with his confessional music as well as his outspoken takes on the stuff he is performing. When a man sings songs with such subject basis such as NAFTA and as to whose children fight a rich man's war, it isn't hard to guess where he stands on political issues, nor does he make any bones about elaborating on those stances between takes. It is rather refreshing to see a man doing so without coming across as preaching, nor in any way seeming to do so in order to get an audience in his corner; Earle uses his musical visions to speak to people about the things he feels passionate about, critics be damned.

Video-

Aspect ratio here is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors here are fine; in truth there is very little color on which to focus, what with the scenario being only Earle and an acoustic guitar on a darkened stage. Sharpness, while not razor sharp, is very good; overall this is a fine representation of the show.

Audio-

As has been the case with past Eagle Rock concert releases, one has three options here; PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround. Both the 5.1 and DTS tracks are excellent; clean, crisp with excellent separation.

Extras-

No extras.

Final Thoughts-

Eagle Rock Entertainment seems to be ever building upon a fine list of concert DVD releases these days, many of them being live shows from the Montreux Jazz Festival that range across a 30 plus year span. Most I have seen are well represented and bring to light fine performances by the artists represented. Steve Earle's 2005 concert is no exception; it focuses on a solid, creative talent in a take no prisoners stage of his long, storied career. Recommended.
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