Posted by: gdevi | July 1, 2013

Concert Review: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers with Edie Brickell

Sunday, June 30.

Today I attended a concert at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan auditorium by the one and only Steve Martin playing with the bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers–terrific group of musicians–and Edie Brickell.  K and D opted not to go; too much banjo, they said. You missed a great concert, my dears. As Steve Martin told the audience during the concert, “We hope you enjoyed tonight’s show. If you did not enjoy the show, when you get home, take a minute to go to the mirror and look at yourself. Then ask yourself, “what could I have done as an audience member to make this an enjoyable experience?”

As far as I am concerned, Steve Martin could play the police horn or the ambulance siren, and it would still be a great concert!

Martin is even funnier on stage, and this evening’s performance was both comedy and music. He opened the show by telling the full house audience at the beautiful Bryce Jordan auditorium: “Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been my lifelong dream to play at Penn State. Today, I am one step closer to fulfilling that dream.” It went on like that from there on.  The Steep Canyon Rangers–his backing band — “you are not my backing band” Martin adlibbed at one point,”I am your celebrity” — are a terrific group of musicians, all apparently from North Carolina. Every song they played had time for each musician to showcase their solos: Mike Guggino on the mandolin, Graham Sharp on the banjo, Charles Humphrey the IIIrd on the bass, or Charles Humphrey the “ill” according to Martin, Woody Platt on the guitar (Is that your real name, Martin asked him. Did you get that name from a Bluegrass name generator, Martin asked him. I am suspicious of your name, Martin kept saying throughout the concert), and a fiddleplayer , Nicky Sanders, who is really something else–the Paganini of bluegrass fiddle. Extraordinary group, really. They played some of their songs “Crow,” “Daddy played banjo,” and a murder ballad with a twist “Pretty little one,” and “I can’t sit down,” — very funny song, really– which Martin followed up with a song “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” with the lines “For atheists, they have a rule/ The “he” is always lower case.” After a while, usually, everything kind of blends together in bluegrass, that is the aesthetic, I think, but these songs were awesome.

Martin played a solo ballad “The Great Remember,” and he sang and played with the band on all the songs. There was a rousing break-up song called “Jubilation Day,” — “Sometimes a break-up is the best thing that can happen to you,” Martin said. I like writing love songs, Martin said, because love is such a universal feeling that any love song is bound to relate to someone or the other in this world. Let us say there is a love song that goes like this — “I love my boyfriend because he chews on tires,” Martin said, “someone could listen to this song and say, oh my god, this is about me!” Love songs relate, Martin said.

Edie Brickell joined them after the first couple of songs, and Brickell and Martin played and sang several songs from their new album. Both Martin and Brickell are from Texas, and Brickell told several sweet and amusing stories  in her slow Texan accent that inform the songs in the album. Apparently, Martin would write the music and send her the banjo pieces and she would write the words based on how the music sounded to her.  She was very close to her grandmother and her big family in Paris, Texas, she said, and several songs sprang from conversations that she heard as a child growing up in this family. There were some lovely songs along this line– “She didn’t do that!” was one of them, and a genuinely beautiful and long-lasting song “Love has come for you,” about a woman with a child born out of wedlock. Brickell also told the story behind the song Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain baby about the true story of a baby found in a suitcase thrown from a moving train, and the woman who brings up this child as her own. (Brickell and Paul Simon both write such beautiful songs about children; good human beings.) Brickell still sings beautifully, and she is an incredibly graceful and simple person to watch.

The rousing finale of the evening was the song “Auden’s train,” which Martin said is based on a poem that his wife read to him one night.  The fiddle-player Nicky Sanders just shredded this song to bits. The entire auditorium boomed and shook with the sound of feet pounding the floor. It was cathartic, to put it mildly. After a standing ovation of ten minutes or so, Steve Martin brought himself and the band back to play for another fifteen minutes or so.

I am so glad I saw this performance. I didn’t have the best seat in the auditorium–somewhere in the middle–but even so, I managed to get a clear view of the performers, and the auditorium acoustics is really good. If Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers are coming to your town, I highly encourage you to go see them.

Funny things Steve Martin said

“Some days I play banjo perfectly. Some days I play sort of fine. You know, I saw Eric Clapton two weeks ago, and he was not even funny.”

“You know with this new electric tuner, there is less radiation on stage. Also, I can check email.”

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