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Concert review Steve Earle

Patrick Beach

Steve Earle, the pride of Schertz, fronted the best hoot-enanny you'll ever see at the Paramount Theater Thursday night. While his name was at the top of the bill, he made sure his Dukes and Duchesses had plenty of space to shine and that they surely did.

In recent years, it's been much more common to see the rebel country singer-songwriter/actor/author/bonsai tree enthusiast/all-around polymath in a solo acoustic setting, where one man carries the show. Or not. This tour, to support the very fine album "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (also the title of his recent novel) is much more egalitarian, and the vibe was precise but relaxed. Everybody plays approximately 16 different instruments, and I think the only person in the band who didn't get a turn at a lead vocal was the drummer. Maybe he had a sore throat.

The first set had enough material from the new album to justify whatever tour support New West might be giving the guy. "Alive" takes its name from the last Hank Williams song released while he was still above ground and is as death-haunted as Lou Reed's "Magic and Loss," but it's anything but a downer, whether the subject is the demise of a father ("Gulf of Mexico") or the resilience of New Orleans ("This City," written for "Treme," the HBO series in which Earle played a street musician). He also found time to drop in a couple of early hits and "Ben McCullough," about a Confederate conscript who "killed a boy the other night who'd never even shaved." So yeah, he's had mortality on his mind for a while.

Nashville wasted a lot of years trying to groom Earle to use the right fork and sit up straight, and it's refreshing to see him, well, there's no way to put this politely \u2026 let go. He needs a haircut, a shave and a gym membership — and he doesn't care. His phrasing is as imprecise as his politics are extreme. His songwriting is as good as and more consistent than that of his mentor, Townes Van Zandt (oh, and they did "Pancho and Lefty"). And he likes a sound that's a little rough around the edges. That proclivity really let the band shine Thursday night. Guitarist Chris Masterson and his wife, Eleanor Whitmore, got to do a couple of tunes. Earle's wife, Allison Moorer, got to sing a mini-set that closed the first half of the show and sent a sizable portion of the crowd into the Paramount lobby before she was finished. Sorry, first tune was great, second was too poppy. She's got a terrific voice, though. Earle pronounced her in possession of the best pipes on the stage and he has that right, although Masterson and Whitmore sounded terrific, too. The harmonies sounded like this outfit had been together for 20 years.

Anybody who lingered in the lobby during the 20-minute break missed "Copperhead Road," which was all thump and menace, exactly as it should be. If Springsteen had written that song, he'd have about nine different arrangements by now just to keep things unpredictable. Earle got it right the first time. By the time they unpacked "Hardcore Troubadour," "The Devil's Right Hand," "The Revolution Starts Now" and "I Feel Alright," this longtime fan was wracking his brain to think of a tune Earle should have played but hadn't. It was a long and generous evening, with plenty of space for the hired help to stretch out. Which they deserved. I mean, they're royalty and everything, right?