David Lindley and Leo Kottke March 7, 2007
By Glen Creason
Wednesday evening’s no-frills concert at the Performing Arts Center by David Lindley and Leo Kottke was disorganized, short on vocal skills, lacking in color, poor in its exposition and somewhat plagued by audience boors who blabbed while the artists played. It was also, without a scintilla of doubt, the best concert at the Center this year. If you looked up “musician’s musicians” in Wikipedia there might as well be pictures of these two gentlemen because their devotion to the craft and unremitting quest for new sounds and expressions is unmatched in acoustic music. Lindley, always one of the most sought after session guitarists in the land has long since been off on the road not taken, blazing trails and actually creating his own exotic stringed instruments. This artist makes the most commonplace melody extraordinary in his talented hands. He can play a raw, simply structured blues tune from the 1920’s and sing with a voice that sounds like steam escaping from a pig bladder but it works beautifully, transporting listeners into a Technicolor movie of sound.
Lindley takes inspiration from places that former rock legends don’t often go which include the Middle East, the Balkans, Asia and big islands off the coast of Africa. He plays the oud, the bouzouki, the Weissenborn guitar, the national dynamic and sundry other stringed instruments that look mighty exotic and sound divine in the master’s hand. He started the show with “the Young Man Who Couldn’t Hoe Corn (the Lazy Man)” which comes from traditional sources dating back to 1931 and recorded by the likes of Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand and Burl Ives. Like most of Lindley’s stuff, this one won’t soon be on the Christina Aguilera play list. The delightfully quirky “Seminole Bingo” by Warren Zevon and Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” were perfectly complimented by Lindley’s many-layered oud playing and high-pitched vocals. A tune from his Kaleidoscope days was decidedly Middle-Eastern dance music. The astounding arrangement and superb dexterity of Lindley’s flying fingers on a dreamy melody done for a children’s record called “Song of Sacagawea” was plain and simple genius. His finishing triumph was a reworking of Blind Willy Johnson’s “the Soul of a Man” fired to red-hot temperatures with a bouzouki of some kind and ably assisted by his show-partner Kottke. Leo Kottke demonstrated everything that was great about the evening and much of what frustrated too in his half of the proceedings. He stood, slightly off center on a bare stage, surrounded, like Lindley by instruments and wires. His guitar playing was enthralling and impeccable, mostly on the 12-string that he has mastered like no one in acoustic music. His occasional patter was witty and droll, punctuated by a dry, self-effacing humor that harkens back to his Minnesota boyhood. Part of the problem here is that Kottke is so far from true showmanship and so divorced from the fleshpeddlars of music he won’t go near self-aggrandizement. When he closes his eyes, focuses inward and creates a current through his soul into his fingers on that guitar the results are magnificent and inspiring. However, he did not identify his tunes for the most part and even those who have been fans of the man since his masterpiece Takoma album could only say “oh yeah, I love that one but…” It might have been “Airproofing” or “Accordion Bells” or “Even His Shoes Looked Lonely” or “Three Quarter North” but Kottke’s opening two songs were beautiful done, lyrical and so chock full of guitar notes there were almost symphonic sounding. The more minimalist treatment of the Christmas melody “In the Bleak Midwinter” shone sweetly and “Monopoly was a sonic journey that just absolutely stunned the full house. “Julie’s House,” one his best-sung songs worked perfectly despite a voice he once described as sounding like geese passing wind. This lead into two marvelous instrumentals: “Morning Is a Long Way Home” and the absolutely gorgeous “Mockingbird Hill,” definitely the highlight of this very fine concert. A new tune “Ants” was replete with a long, convoluted yet charming intro, all part of a fantastic finishing kick featuring “Stealing” from the classic album, “Rings,” his trademark tune and an encore of (maybe) “Ice Miner” that was a sweet dessert at the conclusion this banquet of superb acoustic music.