Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin came out quickly Thursday night at a mostly full Troy Music Hall to sing the traditional “Wake up Little Susie.”
Then Colvin sat down to let Earle sing, and then they rotated, each singing alone on acoustic guitar, for the next hour before coming together for the latter part of their show.
Only a week or so on the road, they were enormously comfortable with one another. Both share long, storied careers — on their own terms and far from the glamour of A-level fame.
Earle told us before singing that it would be a night of music and stories. He launched right into a heavy story of him and his son before singing “The Devil’s Right Hand.” When he first sang the song in 1987, “people called it a gun control song,” he said. But at the time he had a “trailer full of guns.” Since caring for his teenager and after spending his energies keeping the guns from him, he stopped owning any. Now, he says, the song is a “gun control” song. “Mama says the pistol is the Devil’s right hand.”
Colvin preferred humor over such personal exposure. “My hearing’s gone, my eyesight’s gone, my memories gone. I used to be hot all the time, but even that’s gone away,” she said. “I discovered the secret to all of it. And it’s true: I don’t care.”
However, she let her songs expose her insides, like “Summer Dress,” about going out to find her “wilderness.”
She warned us that while Earle could write about anything, she could only write break-up songs. She said that when she was singing backup in Europe for Suzanne Vega, “the first thing they told me was to stay away from the drummer.” Not taking that advice spurred the next song, “Another Long One.”
Earle followed with the saddest and slowest song of the night, “Good-bye.”
They came together an hour into the show to sing “Someday,” drawing the biggest response of the night.
Then Earle told us about seeing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA tour.”
“I went home and I knew what to do. I wrote “Guitar Town.” Success then came, but after his fourth album, “I dropped off the face of the earth.” He didn’t make another record for four-plus years. “It was a dark place that I was in. Very little light got to where I was.” He remembered two small points of light. “I heard Emmy Lou Harris recorded ‘Guitar Town,’ and I heard Shawn Colvin recorded ‘Someday’.”
Before singing “City of Immigrants,” Earle talked a bit about the Korean delis threatened by the 7-Elevens in New York City, where he now lives. He dedicated the next song to Mr. Kim, who owns the deli on his block.
While Earle maintained the largest presence on the stage, both owned their moments. Colvin sang her hit “Sunny Came Home” and Earle sang his, “Copperhead Road.”
They played apart and together with near-perfect balance, giving the show a deeper dimension than had either one of them been alone.