Justin Townes Earle, Joshua Hedley, The Sadies @ Factory Theatre, Sydney, Oct 17th, 2017
After the failure to get Melbourne’s Out On The Weekend Americana music festival up and running in Sydney, we should feel lucky we still get to experience all the acts playing their own sideshows here. It amounts to a week of treats for fans of alt-country and folk music and it marks a decade of regular visits by tonight’s headliner Justin Townes Earle.
The Sadies are Earle’s regular backing band and tonight we were also lucky to witness them playing their own set – and they clearly blew some minds in the opening slot. Led by the brothers Dallas and Travis Good they mixed surf, rockabilly and acid country with a tinge of psychedelia – a retro yet wholly authentic sound from an amazing group of players. The guitar playing of both brothers was particularly impressive, complete with shared guitar playing tricks.
Joshua Hedley has been both a long-standing sideman to the likes of Earle, Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz but in recent years he’s emerged from their shadow as an accomplished songwriter and performer in his own right. Tonight he laced his songs with congenial and often hilarious between-song banter, juxtaposing the serious heartache in his classic country songs. His timing, phrasing and vocal tone lent great weight to his songs and was topped off by an outstanding Florida-themed Nudie suit.
Justin Townes Earle seems to be more and more unassuming with each year that passes. His clothing has been stylistically pared back to a Woody Guthrie goes to college vibe and as he’s matured, his on-stage intensity has also changed. Tonight, with The Sadies as his band, plus Paul Niehaus (Lambchop, Calexico) on guitar and pedal steel, he gave us the closest sound to his albums that we’ve heard live. For the most part it worked very well but ultimately the set failed to gain momentum and go to that special realm that the best shows do. His voice was clearly below par, which he revealed was due to sinus issues on this tour. It was a comment rather than any excuse but it did play a role in the quality of the performance, as did some distracting monitor issues. 15-25, They Killed John Henry (featuring Hedley on fiddle) and a rousing closer in Harlem River Blues were all fine moments but the highlights were a cover of Paul Simon’s Graceland and an understated and dreamy amble of Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now.