I’ll give you my impressions of Thursday night’s Austin show. Shawn’s pony tail hung close to his waist. More importantly, he was in good voice. Yeah, it ain’t exactly what it once was. It’s a little huskier than 25-30 years ago (like my waistline, I’m told, though it isn’t true), and every now and then he lost control of a note, but the range is in beautiful shape, his tone is good and he can still deliver a song. There’s nothing to complain about here…he’s still a better singer than 99.9% of the world.
There was no Willie Nelson and no famous special guests. Shawn was accompanied by two additional guitarists: Van Wilks, an Austin musician who has been collaborating with Shawn on local shows for some time and Sean Kelley, a very young guy who was playing with Shawn and Van on stage for the first time. Most of the time, I could not determine what Kelley was playing. The guitar collaboration between Shawn and Van, however, was extraordinary. In my opinion, these guys have clearly equaled the musical partnership Shawn achieved with Peter Robinson on keyboards. Wilks is a phenomenal player and they stretch out the tunes with beautiful, colorful intros and interludes. I’d pay to see them do nothing but play guitar duets.
The show, however, had one glaring weak spot and that was its pacing. It was one slooooow, mournful tune after another. The first set opened with the tune Free Samples. Shawn went on with Discoveries, Steel Eyes, Casey, One Way Ticket (one of my new favorites, and I don’t think it sounds at all like country music), For Her/Most of Us Don’t Understand At All/L Ballade (these three were strung together with a lot of instrumental passages added) and closed with Peace Song. Shawn clearly wanted the audience to hear this last tune. He explained that he usually ends the show with it, but would use it as the opening set closer because he realized a lot of folks had to go to work on Friday morning and might not stay for the second set.I like the song’s sentiment and Shawn delivered it well, but as a tune it doesn’t work for me. I definitely don’t see it as an interim set closer.
The crowd thinned noticeably by the second set. Maybe it WAS simply because it was a week night. Or maybe people felt like my wife (who enjoys Shawn but is not a fanatic, like I am) who said, “We are tired. Why doesn’t he pick up the pace?” The second (and shorter) set began with Lost and Lonely and then Shawn did pick things up a bit. He did Hey Miss Lonely, Power of a Woman, a typically rousing Moonshine (which brought out a couple of dancers), picked up his electric (the first time in years I’ve gotten to see that) did a long instrumental intro to She was Waitin’ and finished it up with some fiery electric work that I enjoyed a whole lot.
It’s not for me to decide Shawn’s sets, but as a devoted audience member, I kept thinking of the strong tunes he could have done with three guitars, including the electric Manhole Covered Wagon, Bright White, Withered Roses, 8500 Years, Song For Sagittarians, Julia’s Letters and a whole lot more. What Shawn did, he did well. I’ll never tire of hearing Casey, for instance, but I was frustrated that a somewhat subdued affair was not the killer it could have been. After all, Shawn just doesn’t play that often…even here in his home town. In any event, the next time he plays, I’ll be there. I just hope that the people who left in the middle of this show will be back as well.