Sonny Landreth Band and Eugene Edwards. At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, November 18.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Subscribers to Sings Like Hell expect nothing less than the best from programmer Peggy Jones, and she delivered with this double bill, offering two underground sensations at different but complementary stages of their respective careers. Eugene Edwards is no kid, but his quirky power pop (think Alex Chilton or, if you want to get all Jack Black in High Fidelity about it, Brinsley Schwarz) is as expressive of youth as anything since the heyday of “What I Like About You.” Edwards and rhythm guitarist John Hoskinson showed a mastery of the twin guitar approach and stop-time theatrics on numbers such as the title track from Edwards’s 2005 album My Favorite Revolution.
While his onstage shtick can become silly at times — a medley of guitar effects trotted out as an encore didn’t entirely work — Edwards earned the two-legged classic rock leap in the air he gave to celebrate the end of his set, and the audience loved him.
Sonny Landreth has an impeccable pedigree as a sideman, having supported John Hiatt and Jimmy Buffett, among many others, in the course of his career. His style of electric slide guitar, honed in the Louisiana bayous backing zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier, combines conventional slide technique with several sneaky moves you won’t see elsewhere. At times Landreth appears to be fingering the strings behind his slide, imparting an eerie doubleness to his playing and achieving a big, dirty blues sound that’s also remarkably sharp and clear — think Junior Brown meets ZZ Top. The Landreth band is a trio and by the end of the first number no one within earshot would want it any other way. On songs like “Broken Hearted Road” Landreth explores a world of shadings and moods without ever breaking the hypnotic syncopation of the tune’s swamp blues backbeat.
As a singer Landreth is less distinctive, but this is like saying Fred Astaire was not as good a singer as he was a dancer; it’s true enough, but boy are you missing the point. Those who stuck it out to the end witnessed one of the most consummate displays of guitar virtuosity since — well, since three weeks ago when Leo Kottke played the Lobero. But, there you have it; it’s been a season of plenty this fall for Santa Barbara music fans, and the Lobero has been its locus.