Tré Burt played a set of his folk-blues songs at the Riverside Theatre on April 9th as part of Mission Creek Music Festival. This was a stop on his “Sweet Misery Worldwide Tour,” and was one of the last dates in the US before heading to Sweden to start their European leg. With just a tiny guitar (a gift from a friend, he said) and a harmonica, Burt played through tunes from his most recent album You, Yeah, You and others in his intimate set. All the while, a John Prine t-shirt peeked through his jacket, a nod to a clear inspiration from the founder of Oh Boy Records, which released Burt’s two solo albums.
On recording, many of Burt’s songs are accompanied by keys, drums, and bass. While the additional instrumentation can add some groove to these songs, they also thrived in this stripped-down setting. Burt has great control over the guitar, and can fingerpick with both a delicate gentleness and a fiery brashness. This also put more of a focus on his lyricism, an area where Burt unequivocally shines. His lyrics portray the dreary as beautiful through detail and storytelling–a death of someone dear, or a lonesome bender. He wasn’t alone all night, however. Friend and collaborator Jules Baenziger of Sea of Bees joined him to sing a couple of songs. Unsurprisingly, the two performed with excellent vocal chemistry.
Some especially powerful songs addressed systemic racism in the US police–“By the Jasmine,” a story of a character, Dante, accosted by the police on a walk, and “Under the Devil’s Knee” which tells the stories of the police’s murders of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and Breonna Taylor. An intense and reflective stillness came over the room of mostly white Iowans in these moments, before returning to motion from the roars of applause at the songs’ conclusions. Burt’s approach to discussing the police’s racism is to do so with unflinching clarity, letting no abstraction or metaphor possibly interfere with the message of the song.
Closing out the set, Burt played the John Prine song “Sour Grapes,” a song he seemed so familiar with that he could have performed it in his sleep. To conclude, he played his newest album’s lead single, “Sweet Misery”, a gorgeous song that confronts life’s melancholy with a light-hearted stand-offishness: “Sweet Misery / You can follow me down to the end of my path / But you still gotta get through me.” But in these last moments, misery was far away, as the crowd soaked up the joy of hearing this special songwriter. And then, loud applause.