The money men are nervous 'cause they sense big bucks in this guy, but aren't sure who to market him to. The critics are nervous because he frustrates their categorical imperative. So--unforgivably--both factions are suggesting he's Springsteen with a twang, Mellencamp with a beer belly (while Nashville wonders if maybe he's the next Judds). Screw that. Let go and enjoy this mystery. When Steve Earle opens his mouth, disparate worlds come together. Operating from deep in the heart of rock 'n' roll country (with a hungrily contemporary sensibility), Earle fashions a new style in the simple act of being who he is. Sort of the way Elvis worked at the beginning. Or say he's doing for bedrock white forms what Robert Cray is doing for black. Anyway, this is vital music, and you need to see him--especially if you don't think you'll dig him. Tonight, 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959.