Video: Tim Easton and Kevin Buckley at Off Broadway

Tim Easton, the Ohio-born, Joshua Tree-based troubadour (I use the term precisely) was in town Wednesday night at Off Broadway. It should have been a layup, to quote an unnamed source, though there was a bit of rain and mid-week shows in St. Louis are never a sure thing. But the 30 or so folks in attendance saw Easton put on a clinic.

He sound checked with a quick Staple Singers blues. His black 1947 Gibson J-45 may be on the way to Triggerville, but it rang out like a bluegrass army; Easton is no bluegrasser, yet he’s got the rhythm guitar chops to don a suit anytime he likes. You hear critics (ahem) sometimes say that an instrument is an extension of the performer, when what they mean is the performer is playing very well. But that guitar, worn and covered in a grimy film, is a part of Easton; it moves with him and he works it like he doesn’t even have to. The fills, quick runs, flashing solos, and then always back to the rhythm, steady and hard. His boot tapped on a small mic stand-his drummer he called it-and he joked that half way through the day he realized he was dressed like the UPS guy.

Easton spent a few years as a street musician in Paris and elsewhere; he knows how to go solo. He disarms with self-deprecating humor, phrases with declamatory urgency, with a beautiful bark of a voice, and at the end of the night stepped off stage and serenaded the room. He played nearly all of the solid new record Porcupine, debuted some newer still material (including the wonderfully sweet “Festival Song”), dipped back into Ammunition for “Black Dog,” and sang two of his best songs, “Carry Me” and “Poor Poor L.A.,” with the lines that always bite, because he’s earned the right to call out the competition:

A pack of dull monkeys could write circles around,
That fourth grade, mumbly slang,
Stream of consciousness jive that you call a song.
Is that going to be your story?

In the video below, you can hear him joined by Kevin Buckley (of Grace Basement) on “Lexington Jail,” a song he dedicated to the late Jay Bennett. The two were friends, Bennett played on his second album, and Jay was there when the blues took place.