Saturday, September 29, 2007


Rock Concert Review

Went with eldest daughter and a modified guitar god gang (IT guys Mark and John) to Eric Johnson and opening band in some rich guy's basement over on the old Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. It wasn't really in a rich guy's basement, that's just what it reminded me of. It was at the Soiled Dove underground (and soiled dove is a kenning for prostitute). I guess 250 people were there. The opening band started pretty late at 8:15. They were three guys in their twenties--bass, guitar and drums (just like Eric Johnson's band) and I guess they played jazz. The guitarist was technically proficient, but his songs (instrumentals) had no structure, nor pleasing melody, nor any interesting things, and all the emotional impact of a dandelion seed. It was a good foil, I'm sure unconscious, to the headliners to follow, because all of Johnson's songs have all those things and more What is it that makes a guitar instrumental good? Imagine music making you think!

As we waited in line, a youngish man nearby asked into his cell phone, "Eric, where are you?" We thought it a slightly ominous question if he was addressing Eric Johnson, which we thought unlikely. But it turns out he was; it was Roscoe Beck the bassist with the great modern bluesman, Robben Ford, who now plays excellently with Johnson, although discovery of all that was hours away.

Johnson did a righteous Righteous, an extended and lovely Cliffs of Dover, a hauntingly beautiful Desert Rose and two new songs I thought had a lot of promise, Arithmetic and Morning Sun. He also did a new country instrumental which I thought would make most of the country guitarists out there sit down and reassess their careers, although maybe that's just me. The first encore ended in a note perfect cover of Hendrix's The Wind Cries Mary and the final encore was a semi head cutting contest version of John Mayall's Steppin' Out where Johnson was constantly schooling the young guitarist of the opening band.

Now to some artistic meditations by someone who can't play guitar but sure can appreciate good guitar playing after 40 years of critical and intense listening. My son was deep into Mario Brothers video games so we bought the one where you could make a music track with various sounds. All we ever produced were random, totally unsatisfying groups of notes. We could not make a melody. We could not give a rhythm to the sounds which was not a product of the limits of the 'game.' We could not produce any structure whatsoever. I'm sure I still have the game cartridge somewhere gathering dust. The songs of the opening band had that feel about them. Eric Johnson can give order to the chaos, and I'm not just talking about the inherent mathematics of music. Nor am I merely talking about a Keith Jarrett like ability to combine two or more different themes and rhythms into what two human hands are producing with tuned wire wound strings. If I knew more about music I could go a level deeper here, but suffice it to say that even though I can't begin to define what makes good guitar solos and instrumentals, like Justice Potter Stewart with pornography, I know it when I hear it, and I heard song after song of it last night.

Eric Johnson plays tonight at the Fox on the Hill in Boulder. Do yourself a favor and go see him. There may be a handful of electric rock guitarists out there as good or better than he is, but only a handful, if that.


Eric Johnson is nothing short of supernatural. My elder son plays guitar pretty well and I once told him that if he ever masters Cliffs of Dover I'd buy him the Fender of his choice.

I'm still waiting.

Speaking of music making you think...every time I hear Cliffs of Dover I picture an aerobatic performance being flown to that music.
Thanks, good comment. I don't get that picture when I hear the tune but I sure can see how you can.
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