Simply put, there is no m usical presence today as instrumentally virtuosic yet as unassumingly distinctive as Leo Kottke.
Last night at the Clifton Center in Louisville, he placed all manner of wiry m ischief on display through unaccompanied performances on 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars along with a collection of wonderfully askew between-song stories. Of course, that is hardly a revolutionary gam e plan for Kottke. He has designed his solo concerts in pretty m uch the same way for over four decades. But his shows today, and last night’s was no exception, still possess a danger elem ent that make his guitar abilities all the more arresting.
As always, Kottke operated without a setlist, but used a well-worn favorite from the early ‘70s, Pamela Brown, as a show opener. The tune possessed a harder, more punctuated sound here than in recent years. In fact, the rumbling introduction on 12 string made you think he was about to soar into another catalog staple, Vaseline Machine Gun (which, ironically, turned up as an encore). Kottke’s conversational baritone singing, which took on a sagely sense of cunning, cooled the guitar fury but not after the tune had taken a whole new stylistic life.
From another stylistic environment altogether cam e a comparatively newer work, 2004’s Gewerbegebiet (“the most beautiful word in the Germ an language”) that unveiled a pastiche of contrasting tempos – a light, spacious intro that melted into a darker, almost percussive midsection before concluding with a ballet of vibrant instrumental harm onies.
For sheer melodic beauty, though, nothing beat the blues nugget Corrina, Corrina, which Kottke long ago made his own through an almost-pop inspired arrangement that sounded like it could have easily skipped off into the instrumental classic Sleepwalk had the guitarist been so inclined.
As always, Kottke’s askew storytelling was as original as his playing. During the course of the 90 minute show, the guitarist discussed two major regrets from his days in the Navy (not being able to tolerate torpedo fuel as a beverage and not mastering the art of shooting light bulbs tossed from submarines with a machine gun), his opinion of the Clifton Center’s lighting (“Can we get it any darker in here? I can see m ore than I really want to”) and the apparent widespread reluctance, especially from orchestras, to embrace major third intervals (“My m ission in life is to drill the m ajor third into your head and out of mine”).
Such were the rum inations of the modern day guitar virtuoso, still as wonderfully restless with as life as he is with m usic.
(Note: Kottke’s Clifton Center perform ance was reviewed in lieu of his Tuesday concert here at the Lyric Theatre so The Musical Box could report back on Paul McCartney’s show the same night at Louisville’s KFC Yum ! Center.)