Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Steve Martin Plays the Blues… I Mean, Bluegrass

Steep Canyon Rangers tuning, checking mics
Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen Steve Martin perform with his Steep Canyon Rangers, this review might give away the punch line to a couple of his stories. If you can't handle that, come back tomorrow for Wordless Wednesday. 

And since we're talking about Wordless Wednesday, I should mention what a delight it was to do live painting in the park at the Harvest Fest Sunday. I even met a person who said they look forward to my Wordless Wednesdays. Thank you.

Disclaimer: This review of Sunday's Steve Martin concert may not be as well written as Christa Lawler's front page story in the Duluth News Tribune. That piece was written by a professional writer for a well known daily newspaper, and this one is only written by a blogger. But I'll do the best I can. You can read Christa's review here.

Well, hey, I have been a Steve Martin fan for decades, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I've read his autobiography Born Standing Up twice as well as most of his other books and laughed so hard at some of his films that my cheeks hurt. When you read Born Standing Up you can see that his great joy seems to be performing, and since so much of his live comedy involved sight gags and visuals, it became near impossible to carry out his vision in football stadium sized venues which sold out but failed to really satisfy. It's that connection with an audience that seems to jazz him. For this reason, putting together a road show with virtuoso musicians appears to be a very natural career move. And when you have so much money you don't need any more, and you still have a lot of life in you, why not do what you love? Making music is a wonderful thing... sharing your passion with others, now that's living.

The setting was Duluth's Bayfront Festival Park where so many great bands have played and festivals have been held. The tickets read, Rain or Shine so it was nice to have the weather be so accommodating. Pure sunshine.

The first task of the band when they came on was to get the microphones set. This took a little while, but when you're going for that perfect sound, the attention to detail here was refreshing. Loved that sound. The band played a lick and then left, and then returned with Mr. Martin, wearing a dark sport coat and white slacks. He introduced the show with this observation: “A lot of bluegrass is fun and a lot of bluegrass is virtuosity on display…. But one thing it's not is boring.” And to be frank, I can't imagine Steve Martin being boring no matter what he does. Later in the show he confessed, "I'm doing my two favorite things, comedy and charging people money to listen to music."

The banter is as much a part of Steve Martin's schtick as the endlessly entertaining talent. After a warm up song in which the various band members pulled solos briefly, he mentioned how he met the band (Steep Canyon Rangers) at a party in North Carolina. The week before Lyle Lovett did a similar thing with his own acoustic band, opening with a crowd warmer that gave each band member a chance to show off a lick or two, tipping his hand to all that he was backed by an incredibly talented team of musicians.

But Steve Martin's banter is all Martin. “This next song is a sing-a-long.” In reality it was an instrumental followed by a second, one slow and one fast. So right from the start he showed the virtuosity of his band while preparing us for a late afternoon mix of great music and comedic zest.

The next song was Daddy Played Banjo, followed by a love song from his Rare Bird Alert CD, “Go away, stop, turn around, come back.”

Between each song Martin would switch banjos. He had at least five of them set in racks on the right side behind the band. “People ask why I have so many banjos on stage. I think of my banjos as my children, which means that one of them is probably not my own.”

After introducing part of the band they played another instrumental, "The Crow."

He introduced the next saying by saying it was based on personal experience. “I Think My Masseuse Is Too Chatty.” This was followed by his comedic break-up song "Jubilation Day" which is also on Rare Bird Alert after which he declared, “It’s been 45 minutes since I Googled myself.”

“If you’re not enjoying the show so far, you’re wrong," he announced before taking a break. He cited a line from a reviewer which affirmed this fact, then took a break as the Ranger played a song, then went into "Who's That Yonder, I Can't Sit Down" a capella, men's quartet style. Great voices and wonderful warm up to the crowd pleaser, Atheists Have No Songs. (You can find it yourself on YouTube.)

Much more could be said but you get the picture. I won't spoil all the jokes, but you can easily imagine it being a one of a kind show. The second half playlist included Pretty Little One, Best Love (Sir Paul failed to show up for his cameo), Me and Paul Revere, and others. The encore included such over-the-top fiddling you simply had to let your jaw go slack with awe.

If you get a chance, and they're in your neighborhood, you really need to go see this show. It may be a highlight of your year.

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