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PHOTOS: Steve Earle Hits Political Notes in Sold-out State College Show

on August 23, 2011 10:09 AM

When Steve Earle released "Jerusalem," his 2002 song imagining peace in the Middle East, people told him he was wishing for a lost cause.

But "I am a recovering heroin addict," he told a State Theatre audience Monday night. "And I cannot afford to believe that" anything is a hopeless case.

A Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, Earle, 56, sounded neither hopeless nor weary as he returned to play the sold-out State College venue for a solid three hours.

He and his five-member electric band, The Dukes (and Duchesses) featuring Allison Moorer, gorgeously performed 34 rock, country and folk songs spanning at least four decades. (To open a photo gallery from the concert, click on the large image above.)

They opened with "Waitin' on the Sky" and the more political "Little Emperor" and "Gulf of Mexico," all off Earle's April 2011 album: "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."

"(Expletive) BP," Earle ordered from his microphone, delighting the mostly middle-aged crowd as the band finished playing "Gulf of Mexico."

It was the first -- and perhaps the shortest -- direct political note that Earle aired in a string of on-stage commentary and anecdotes.

At times, the longtime activist expounded on the perspectives woven into his socially and politically motivated lyrics.

A Texan-turned-New Yorker, Earle extolled immigration as "the lifeblood" of the United States -- past, present and future. He declared that "wars are generally about somebody's money when it gets right down to it."

And he said gas-drilling advocates are "lying to you" about how many jobs will be created by Marcellus Shale exploration. Areas outside New York state's current ban on Marcellus Shale drilling are "basically (expletive)-ed," he added.

"It's not (expletive) water" but chemical-laced fluid that gas companies use in hydraulic fracturing, Earle said. " ... Nobody's going to protect the place that you live -- when it gets right down to it -- but you."

Earle has long fused politics, music and other arts. His long career has included collaboration with Joan Baez and acting roles on HBO, and yielded original works covered by Johnny Cash, The Pretenders and Emmylou Harris, among other famed musicians.

On the political front, Earle was an ardent activist against the Vietnam War and has campaigned against capital punishment. He has spoken out to support gun control -- and to oppose the attempted gentrification of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

But the evening on Monday wasn't all political, as Earle folded soulful love songs into the show, offered self-deprecating -- and mildly profane -- stories, and even stole a lightning-quick kiss with Moorer, his wife.

"I love my job," he said at one point, "because it never ceases to amaze me the pinko (expletive)" that he gets away with.

Audience members appeared rapt through much of the show, cheering and shouting when Earle called the group "progressives."

He returned the community love in part by complimenting the venue, the nonprofit State Theatre. His appearance there was part of an ongoing tour to highlight the release of "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."

"Do you realize how lucky you are to have this place?" Earle asked the crowd, referring to the State Theatre. The crowd delivered another round of cheers.

Earle and the band played two encores before finishing out the show about 11:30 p.m. More-grim political remarks delivered earlier in the evening gave way to a relatively upbeat, optimistic-sounding end.

An Earle song released in 2004, "The Revolution Starts Now," helped seal the night.

"When you rise above your fear, and tear the walls around you down," the group sang, "the revolution starts here."

On Steve Earle's stage, it always does.

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