One-Man Band

Leo Kottke

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.

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