Billy Joe Shaver: one of the most phenomenal shows of this or any other year
House of Blues, Cambridge, Mass., May 25, 2001
CAMBRIDGE, MA. - Billy Joe Shaver seemed to take the stage with a singular purpose. Past shows, at least in these parts, Shaver has shown himself to be somewhat indifferent to promoting whatever he might have released in the recent past, choosing instead to play the tunes expected by the crowd along with whatever other material struck his fancy.
This time, though, the show's entire first set was devoted to playing a good chunk of the songs from the latest, and last, Shaver releas - which is to say, the last on which, sad to say, son Eddy will be heard.
Shaver played the album's lead-off, "Life Is So Sweet," as his opening statement; the bluegrass-flavored "New York City Girl" followed, and then 8 more of the album's 14 tracks, among them a heavy dose of the blues on "Sail of My Soul," a lump-in-the-throat rendition of "Star In My Heart," and finally, the title track, "The Earth Rolls On." Shaver did not do "Blood Is Thicker Than Water," and one doubts that he ever will, since his son is no longer here to sing the duet with him.
Eddy Shaver's place was taken by Joe Ely's guitarist Jesse Taylor, and hearing someone other than Shaver's son playing Shaver songs took some getting used to, but Taylor did bring his own distinctive style to the mix. More impressive still were the multi-instrumental talents of Bob Brown, who played keyboards, mandolin, guitar, harmonica and fiddle as the situation dictated.
The second set was a return to the more typical form of a Shaver show, and it was a generous and varied serving; for an additional 90 minutes or so, the band played fully 25 songs more, and played their hearts out.
A geographical tour on "Heart of Texas," "Oklahoma Wind" and the countrified version of "Georgia On a Fast Train" with some hot fiddling from band member Brown and a jig mid-song from Billy Joe (and with help on the singing and the jigging from local country stalwart John Lincoln Wright, who Shaver had called onstage); acoustic versions of "Good Ol' USA," "When the Fallen Angels Fly" ( a beautiful rendition built on a rolling drum beat) and "Old Five and Dimers Like Me;" Shaver singing "First and Last Time" a cappella, and "I Couldn't Be Me Without You" alone with his guitar; absolutely incendiary renditions of "Thunderbird," "Hottest Thing In Town," (complete with barrelhouse piano work, again from Bob Brown), and "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ," which sequed into "Tramp On Your Street" to bring things to a transcendent close; this show went from one delight to another and seemed without end.
More's the pity, then, that the club was only half-full, and on a Friday night, too; those who were elsewhere missed one of the most phenomenal shows of this or any other year.