Published Jan 01, 2006It's easy to see the 80-plus years etched into the face of the 63-year-old Billy Joe Shaver. Orphaned as a child and plagued by the hardships of life, he's recently endured the death of his mother, his wife, the suicide of his talented son and co-performer, Eddy not to mention the desertion of yet another label and a heart attack requiring bypass surgery. For those at Hugh's on this evening, "positive" was an understatement as Shaver attacked his improv set list with the fervour of a Pentecostal minister. Long the recording industry's underdog and critics' darling, his fans are nothing if not ferociously dedicated and protective of their outlaw laureate and his richly diverse catalogue. Calling out for favourites, Shaver did his best to address them all, adding heart-warming and hilarious asides as he warmed to the room. From honky-tonk to hard rock, old-tyme country to singing "Acapulco," Shaver's gentle Texas warble skipped through his tunes like a father with a photo album. His knack with a phrase is matched by a near-spiritual ability to deliver his songs. And although, Billy has finally found the Lord (after apparently looking for him in all the wrong places), he's not here to sell you anything. By evening's end, we were ready to join his congregation.