My wife Elisa and I had decided to treat ourselves to a concert for Valentine’s Day, and while this show was two months removed, it was the one that we picked. It was our first visit to the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, and we both thought the venue was great. Seating just under 900, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house, and every aspect of the place was very well thought out.
Jerry Douglas, well known these days as a sideman in the band Alison Krauss and Union Station, opened the show with an amazing display of virtuosity on the dobro. I’m completely unfamiliar with Jerry’s solo repertoire and this was the first time that I’d seen Jerry live, so I didn’t know what to expect, beyond the anticipation of listening to one of the truly fine instrumentalists of our generation. Jerry opened with a very flashy instrumental piece that I did not recognize, and followed up with a piece called Takarazuka. He mentioned that in Japanese Takarazuka had a double meaning, translating as “beautiful mountainside” and also as “village idiot.” I have no idea if he was being serious. He followed that with a piece that blended Union House Branch with Passing the Bar, and then played a tune that he said was named for the most dangerous road in Iraq, The Rude Irish.
After that he played a pair of songs dedicated to one of his dobro heroes, Flatt & Scruggs sideman Josh Grave. He reminisced about growing up in North Ohio, listening to the country-influenced music that his father liked, and also being influenced by the rock and roll of the day being played on the high-powered AM radio stations in Cleveland, particularly music by the Stones and the Beatles. At the end of his set he wrapped up with a nice piece that was a medley of tunes, highlighted by a very nice version of The Allman Brothers’ Little Martha.
After a brief intermission Leo Kottke took the stage. This was the second (or perhaps third) time I’ve seen Leo live, and it is always quite the experience. Leo plays on a pair of Taylor guitars, a six-string and a twelve-string. Both were equipped with sound-hole pickups, and both suffered from slight distortion in the lower notes that was a bit of a distraction. There was no such problem present in Jerry’s part of the show, so I don’t believe it was an issue with the PA, which was excellent for Jerry’s dobro and for Leo’s singing.
Kottke kicked it off on his twelve-string with a trio of instrumental pieces which he did not identify, and then he introduced a tune called William Powell, after the actor. He followed that up with song that I think originated on one of the albums Kottke and Phish bassist Michael Gordon did together, and then he did an absolutely beautiful rendition of the Paul Siebel penned tune, Louise. He followed that with one of my favoriates, a John Fahey instrumental called The Last Steam Engine Train, that he mentioned was a favorite of Doc Watson’s. Then he did another instrumental that began as being sort of a slow, wandering jazz piece and ended up as a faster, syncopated type of jazz. After that, he slowed it down and finished his solo set with a very fine rendition of the traditional song, Corinna, Corrina.
What I haven’t mentioned up until now is Leo’s story telling. As anyone who has seen him live can attest, listening to Leo introduce a song with his rambling, unfocused, and yet extremely entertaining style is a real treat. He sometimes seems more surprised by what comes out of his mouth than does his audience. He’s laugh out loud funny, without seeming to mean to be.
At this point, Leo brought Jerry Douglas back on stage, and Jerry accompanied him on a pair of tunes, Everybody Lies and Pamela Brown. For the encore they played Rings. Listening to Jerry accompany Leo on these three pieces certainly left me wanting more; there are plenty of reasons why Jerry Douglas is a premier session player, not least of which is his ability to effortlessly put down instrumental runs and embellishments that seem, in retrospect, to have always belonged in the song, improving the composition in ways the listener could not have imagined.
It was a great show!
and Jerry Douglas.
8:00 pm, April 17, 2010
Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, Derry, New Hampshire