Photographs by Lee-Ann Richer.

Husband and wife duo The Mastersons – made up of Chris Masterson and his wife, Eleanor Whitmore – opened the show at Massey Hall on Sunday night with practiced aplomb. I had never heard of The Mastersons before, so the surprise hit me like a ton of bricks, and I became an instant convert to their particular brand of alt-country. The two of them are as in sync as any two musicians I’ve seen together, their songs were as hooky as they were delicately and intricately crafted – Eleanor primarily played the tenor guitar and a fiddle throughout their set, which added some dynamism to their sound – and I was totally taken by them.  

I didn’t expect to see them again fifteen minutes after their set had finished as players in Steve Earle’s backing band The Dukes, though, so that was surprise number two for the night. Chris Masterson, on lead guitar, was inspiring. I turned to my dad, who I took to the show with me, and said, “I need to learn to play guitar all over again.”

Steve Earle himself was far cooler than I ever imagined he might be. I’d been introduced to his music when I was young, so I’ve always been familiar with ‘Copperhead Road,’ and ‘Guitar Town,’ and all the rest of the hits. Then I saw him again in the Nashville music documentary Heartworn Highways, where he was just a kid hanging out with legends like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. I think that experience of his, of being around the music scene and playing with guys like that, really legitimizes him. I mean, I knew I was going to get Steve Earle, but I didn’t realize how real it would all feel. When he sings those songs, it’s like hearing them from the weathered old outlaw who wrote them, and that’s because he really is the weathered old outlaw who wrote them. There’s nothing contrived about Steve Earle. There’s nothing fake there. He told stories in between songs that just added to the legend, and he was funny, and charming, and completely charismatic. He was that kid who grew up with Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark and who had struck out on a similar path, but a path of his own nonetheless. It was pretty amazing to see.

Steve Earle and the band marched out onto the stage to Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’, in honour of the late legend and also to introduce their own brand of blues. Steve Earle’s latest album, aptly named Terraplane, is an entirely blues-based album, and it’s awesome. The bar for blues is high, as Steve Earle said himself while onstage at Massey Hall, but his band is better than ever and he’s writing songs that he might not have written earlier in his career, when the commercial machine rolled along behind him. 

The standout song off the new album, for me, was ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now,’ a blues track that kicked and chugged and pulled me in. The band’s cover of ‘Hey Joe’ was also awesome. 

All in all a very good show, and one I would definitely catch again. The Mastersons, as well, people. Keep your eyes on those two. They’re a hell of a duo.

Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.