Therein lies one of life’s biggest lessons
Ain’t got nothin’ to do with deserve
Just pray to the Saint of Lost Causes

The first thing you noticed about the Justin Townes Earle show were the fans. Dedicated, diverse, young and old. With the Cabaret show beforehand causing feathered havoc within the Spiegeltent, the delayed line of expectant faces snaked back to the waterfront.

When the show finally rolled, the crowd was not disappointed.

JTE strolled onto the stage, alone with only his guitar.

It was the first time I had seen him live, and he exuded an almost laconic charisma. It wasn’t high octane, but his presence on stage was absorbing. As he started to play, it seemed at once both quintessential Americana, yet wholly unique.

His storytelling and sound were refreshing compared to the muddy meaningless puddles of manufactured music that dominate our airwaves. He would introduce each song succinctly, cutting right to the chase of a personal intrigue, or a broken moment. He didn’t spare himself or seek sympathy as he traversed colourful family moments and his long struggles with addiction (he says he is currently in the midst of addiction). He laid it bare and offered up his hard-learnt reflections on love, life and politics.

The sound he extracted from his guitar seemed at once both simple and extraordinary. A crispness and clarity, that only results from great skill, his finger picking was unusual and it was difficult to catch just how he extracted the rich combination of sounds from a single guitar. And his voice was even better live, rich and resonant, and surprising from a bloke who clearly (as he told us) loved a smoke too.

Amidst many of his songs JTE seemed to be transported on the stage, however many times he must have played them before, he still carried the emotional resonance of them within his performance.

The audience seemed subdued, even for the more upbeat, rollicking songs, giving a half-arsed tap of the foot or nod of the head as they sipped from their beers and looked on. Were they greedily taking in every detail too focussed to move? Are we just laidback? Or is this sleepy Brisbane on a weeknight? I asked myself as I canvassed the room.

Perhaps for many, they looked on searchingly, wanting to be alongside him more fully in that moment, understanding the source and meaning, feeling the cool that exuded from this suave one man show.

Justin Townes Earle played the Brisbane Festival one night only, but his new album, Saint of Lost Causes, is out now.

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