Sunday, June 24, 2012

If You're Not Enjoying the Show, You're Wrong

So said Steve Martin when he joined collaborators the Steep Canyon Rangers for a show at the Civic Center Saturday night. Martin has found himself a pretty good gig. It is clear that he still loves to make a crowd erupt with laughter and he obviously loves playing the banjo, so now he gets to hop on stage and play some music and tell some jokes without the pressure of making the audience laugh for an entire set.

The draw for the sold out show was Martin, which he himself recognizes as an odd proposition; he likened it to seeing an ad for Jerry Seinfeld performing original music for the bassoon and deciding you can’t miss it. But the Rangers deserve just as much credit for the success of the show as Martin.

The band includes Mike Guggino on mandolin, Charles Humphrey on bass, Woody Platt on guitar, Graham Sharp on banjo, and Nicky Sanders on fiddle. These are clearly life-long musicians who somehow manage to make playing a million miles an hour look easy. Compliments to the Rangers takes nothing away from Martin, who is a fabulous picker in his own right.

The set included several pieces from their joint albums such as “Daddy Played the Banjo,” “Me and Paul Revere” and “Go Away. Stop. Turnaround. Come Back.” The good-bye and good riddance anthem “Jubilation Day” was met with uproarious laughter and cheers. But the show was not all fast and furious. “Best Love” and “The Great Remember” the latter of which Martin performed solo, proved that bluegrass can be moving and reserved.

Martin spent a couple of numbers off-stage wherein the Rangers showcased their crisp, clear voices on the a capella “I Can’t Sit Down.” Following that hymn was the hilarious “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” Even if you don’t count yourself among them you will still enjoy it. As the clip reveals, Martin is not the natural singer that the Rangers are, but on other numbers he proves he can carry a tune.

The encore was the marathon “Auden’s Train” which Martin wrote using W.H. Auden poetry. The piece features fiddler Sanders tearing up the floor and displaying an adeptness that must be nearly unmatched in the bluegrass world.

The Rangers and Martin put on a very good show. The shtick  - Martin as the buffoon that the Rangers put up with – works and the music is fantastic. Let’s hope that they continue to collaborate and present great bluegrass music for years to come.