Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers @ The Pabst Theater
April 20, 2010
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
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