Those familiar with the folk mastery of Leo Kottke know that his performances are as much about his notes on life as the notes he plays on the guitar. In composition, he tends to vacillate between playful noodling, jazzy key changes, and steady, determined riffs with a patent fingerpicking style so fast it would leave most metal guitarists reevaluating their life choices. However, it is during the moments between songs that Kottke’s down-home, self-deprecating personality really shines through. His anecdotes are hysterically funny, and as he relaxes his fingers to a wandering pace, the music becomes a vehicle for him to deliver punch lines and unabashedly rejigger his songs. In the oft-noted ether between musicians and comedians, Kottke is king.
But timeliness is next to kingliness, and even after the Georgia-grown axeman had dished out a few toe-tappers on the 12-string last Friday, he had not said a word. It was not until he traded out for his six-string that he finally reached for the mike. “I was trying to move that last one from F to A,” he shrugged. “But that doesn’t work. Sometimes F is what you make it.” After warming up his baritone, Kottke launched into a sonorous rendition of “Julie’s House,” a song that belies the painful capacity of memory with up-tempo bluegrass riffs.
Eventually, Kottke made his final pause to recount a time when his dentist pointed out the large size of his tongue, and he admitted that he’s since suffered from uncertainty about where to put his tongue sometimes. “I’ll leave you with this,” he said before unleashing the most aggressive composition of the night. Named after Kottke’s favorite word in the German language, “Gewerbegebiet” is a beautiful, minor-keyed ballad. Given the ironic and contradictory nature of his humor, it seems fairly obvious where Mr. Kottke’s tongue should rest.