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Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers @ The Pabst Theater

April 20, 2010

Apr. 21, 2010
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“So often I hear the question, ‘Why a music career, Steve? Why now?’ And I usually respond, ‘Hey, you guys are my band!’”

This statement of mock-angst by the ever-amiable, multitalented Steve Martin, possessor of breathtaking banjo skills along with some sort of background in comedy, captured the evening’s seamless blend of hilarity and musicianship.

Those who came to see a comedy legend received plenty of Martinesque quips and bits. Concertgoers who pined solely for bluegrass found a top-notch banjo player paired with rising artists The Steep Canyon Rangers—one of those rare teamings in which rapport and abilities are equally outstanding. As for those who wanted both comedy and bluegrass, on a Tuesday night no less, that’s asking a little much—I suppose you wanted a red carpet to anticipate your every step, along with a butler holding one umbrella for you and another for your PBR… Well, even you greedy, palm-rubbing comedy/music lovers left satiated.

Perhaps tops among many classic Martin moments was when he took time from the show to Tweet on his new iPad. “Audience loving the show,” he said as he typed. “They are laughing out loud.

“L-A-U-G-H-I-N-G…O-U-T…L-O-U-D,” he added, eschewing the popular LOL for some grammatical authenticity.

And, indeed, the show provided many authentic moments between band and audience. It’s not easy to match a stage presence as strong as Martin, but The Steep Canyon Rangers, named 2006 “Emerging Artist of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association, were up to the challenge. The Rangers appeared as comfortable playing Martin originals from his album The Crow as they did songs from their own record, Deep in the Shade.

As soon as his rich voice hit the air, lead singer Woody Platt (clearly a stage name to improve upon his birth title, Alphonso Gorgonzola, as Martin pointed out) simply sounded like a bluegrass singer. With the rest of the group joining in, the Rangers later performed a flawless old-timey spiritual, which then paved the way for Martin’s spoof spiritual for nonbelievers, “Atheists Ain’t Got No Songs.”

Platt and the band ably played along with many of the comedic antics throughout the night. As Martin walked off the stage to allow the Rangers some solo time, Charles R. Humphrey III opened the back of his bass instrument and grabbed Martin a beer. At another point, Martin gave kudos to a banjo solo by Graham Sharp, before warning him that it sounded “a little too good, you know what I mean.” He then mocked Sharp for playing only one banjo on stage, as compared to Martin’s four. “Pathetic,” Martin added.

The Rangers were up to the task musically as well. Mike Guggino, in addition to mandolin, pitched in with some beautiful harmony vocals. And Nicky Sanders nearly stole the show by the end, fiddling up such a storm that strings were literally flying off his bow.

Ending the evening as it began, during the encore the playful Martin explained to the audience that it was unfair for those who paid less for tickets to enjoy the same experience as higher-paying attendees. So he asked those in the cheaper seats to cover one eye or ear in the name of fairness.

Even down an eye, it was easy to see the evening’s seamless blend of humor and music. Whether you wanted a comedy god or a whiz-bang banjo player and his team of crack musicians, you walked away from the grandeur of the Pabst Theater with complete satisfaction.

Photo by CJ Foeckler


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