At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, November 4.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Leo Kottke’s devoted fans got what they came out for — and more — on Saturday at the Lobero. Kottke delivered a powerful and typically eccentric set, and openers Honkytonk Homeslice showed themselves to be more than equal to the task of warming up for this acoustic guitar legend. Homeslice, led by String Cheese Incident guitarist Bill Nershi, is a trio that also includes Nershi’s wife Jilian and guitarist and mandolin player Scott Law. They opened with a keening, heartsick version of Tom Waits’s “The Heart of Saturday Night” and they never let go. After their set at the Lobero, they headed over to Legends on Milpas, where it is likely they played late into the night.
Kottke makes music that feels as good as he plays. His finger-picking style generates an amazing quantity of sound, which often results in a grand piano-like sound from his Taylor 12-string guitar. For material, Kottke draws on a memory of recorded music that goes well beyond even the most ardent vinyl maniac’s dreams. One of the numbers he trotted out, by 78 rpm lounge music forerunners the Three Suns, was so obscure Kottke himself couldn’t even name it, offering only the name of the group and the instrumentation, a combination of Hammond organ, guitar, and accordion that he said was “deliciously sleazy.”
No review of a Leo Kottke show would be complete without some report on his notorious between-songs patter. In one sequence, he rambled from childhood memories of playing with lead and mercury to a discussion of the poet Robert Lowell’s treatment for acute paranoia with an extremely high dose of Thorazine. Self-conscious for a moment, Kottke asked the house if he had “destroyed the mood” before delivering the point of the story, which was that Lowell asked visitors to settle his nerves by whistling. If whistling in the dark, whether of history or private misery, has ever been an appropriate metaphor for what good music does for people, then this was one of those Saturday nights.