Simply put, there is no m usical presence today as instrum entally virtuosic yet as unassum ingly distinctive as Leo Kottke.
Last night at the Clifton Center in Louisville, he placed all m anner of wiry m ischief on display through unaccom panied perform ances 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 sam e way for over four decades. But his shows today, and last night’s was no exception, still possess a danger elem ent that m ake his guitar abilities all the m ore arresting.
As always, Kottke operated without a setlist, but used a well-worn favorite from the early ‘70s, Pam ela Brown, as a show opener. The tune possessed a harder, m ore punctuated sound here than in recent years. In fact, the rum bling introduction on 12 string m ade you think he was about 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 environm ent altogether cam e a com paratively newer work, 2004’s Gewerbegebiet (“the m ost beautiful word in the Germ an language”) that unveiled a pastiche of contrasting tem pos – a light, spacious intro that m elted into a darker, alm ost percussive m idsection before concluding with a ballet of vibrant instrumental harm onies.
For sheer m elodic beauty, though, nothing beat the blues nugget Corrina, Corrina, which Kottke long ago m ade his own through an alm ost-pop inspired arrangem ent that sounded like it could have easily skipped off into the instrum ental 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 m inute show, the guitarist discussed two m ajor regrets from his days in the Navy (not being able to tolerate torpedo fuel as a beverage and not m astering the art of shooting light bulbs tossed from subm arines with a m achine 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 em brace m ajor third chords (“My m ission in life is to drill the m ajor third into your head and out of m ine”).
Such were the rum inations of the m odern 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 sam e night at Louisville’s KFC Yum ! Center.)