Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle

Lindi Ortega/Marlon Williams

Astor Theatre

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Marlon Williams visited Perth for the first time just over a month ago, yet the man with the fast growing reputation is now making his third stop in just over a month. People that have seen Williams previous shows would be aware of his crystal clear choral voice and clever country tunes, but tonight the songs were transformed with the help of a full band for the first time.

State Hospital was an early highlight, with clean guitar and ample harmonies adding another level to the sombre tale. That’s All I Can Remember and First There Was showed off Williams’ vibrato and benefited from lashings of pedal steel. Williams dispensed with the band to play a few solo tunes, claiming it is due to him having an ego that can’t be tamed, before returning with his band for The Trouble I Am In as a set closer. Williams again put on a flawless set that was full of charisma and good humour whilst playing tunes about infanticide and heartbreak.

Kicking around on the Toronto scene saw her dubbed as “Indie Lindi” by the locals, yet Lindi Ortega became more visible when she got a gig as Brandon Flowers’ backing singer. Soon she had a record deal in front of her and has melded her take on blues and country over the course of three recent records.

Attacking the set as a duo, the singer of Mexican-Irish decent had a large portion of the males in the audience eating out of the palm of her hand before she even opened her mouth. Opening with Hard As This from her most recent album Tin Star, Ortega let fly with a voice that was as remarkable and her bright red cowboy boots. The earthy Cigarettes & Truckstops showed why she is compared so readily to Dolly Parton, and the suicide song Heaven Has No Vacancy was free of country clichés. Ortega played a solid set, but it was the crazed slide and genre bending Telecaster playing of “Champagne” James Robertson that stole the show.

Justin Townes Earle apologised for it being a long time between drinks since he last set foot in Perth, but the regular visitor to Australia made up for it by bringing his band with him for the first time and engaging in a set that clicked in at over an hour and a half in length. Being a fan of throwing out the rulebook, he opened with a song that is yet to be released whilst at the same time promising a new album in February next year.

The title track of new album Single Mothers came out early in the piece and was followed by a slick arrangement of Mama’s Eyes, but not before Earle warned that just because you may have had a shit dad, it doesn’t make you his brother. Drawing on the Memphis Soul sound that has permeated recent recordings, Earle walked through his different eras with the pulled back Someday I’ll Be Forgiven For This, Worried About The Weather and a fast paced Memphis In The Rain.

Earle commands the stage with his impressive height, lack of body weight and his good-natured banter. He dedicated tunes to his grandfather (They Killed John Henry) and his wife (Learning To Cry) while sharing with the punters that he doesn’t own any of his own records so as to not be fooled in to having to play the songs the same way all the time. This approach clearly works for Earle as he launched into an breakneck and loud version of My Baby Drives.

There was the lament of simpler times when all you had to do was burn a pile of photos to erase the memory of a lover, whilst these days you need to delete phone and reformat hard drives to only scratch the surface of shutting someone out. The banter after this point became nonsensical as jet lag set in, but Earle did comment that he would finish with his favourite songs of the record including a swaying version of Time Shows Fools and Today And A Lonely Last Night due to it being ‘pretty’.

An encore was always on the cards and the harmony lead Harlem River Blues was the high quality tune to do the trick. Earle then spoke of his mothers favourite song and ended with a lacklustre version of one of the greatest, but sadly also most covered songs of all time in Dreams. It may have been an odd finish to an evening, but could not sour an evening that was otherwise rich with quality from start to finish.