Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke
At UCSB's Campbell Hall, Thursday, October 2.
It seemed only fitting that Loudon Wainwright III should take the stage at Campbell Hall in an atmosphere of awkward tension due to the evening’s vice-presidential debate. Wainwright has always operated at a slight, uneasy remove from the political, and awkwardness might be said to constitute his metier. Announcing his intention to cleverly avoid the topic of politics entirely, Wainwright plunged straight into “Suicide Song.” The covers of his earlier material contained on his current release, Recovery, provided most of the set list and gave him plenty to work with as he circulated casually between guitar, piano, and ukulele. His rapport with the audience was warm and friendly, but also at times guarded and sensitive, as when he overheard one audience member hushing another, more boisterous patron.
In a solo setting, Wainwright gets by on his songs’ impeccable craftsmanship. He has a great sense of rising structure, and you would never mistake the second verse for the third of any of his lyrics-they are that well made. On “New Paint” he gave an extra twist to the lines that held the most irony, singing “I’m tired and I’m hungry and I’m looking for my youth / I’m a little uncool and I’m a little uncouth” with a wicked grin. But then he took “Be Careful There’s a Baby in the House” with utter seriousness and made it haunting and nearly elegiac. There was no “Grey in L.A.,” but there was another of the songs from Knocked Up, Peter Blegvad’s “Daughter,” which Wainwright sang with gusto.
Leo Kottke followed rather than warmed up for Wainwright, and the order was a good one. Kottke’s strange brew of advanced guitar technique, burnished baritone, and extended between-song breaks for re-tuning and wildly digressive remarks needs to be heard in an utterly relaxed state to be fully appreciated. Within his rarified idiom, Kottke would seem to be incapable of an incorrect performance, and Thursday was no exception. A gorgeous “Corrine, Corrina,” shared the meandering hour with reminiscences about everything under the sun, or in one instance, under the inflatable tent. Taken together, these two make a great case for yet another ’70s revival, this one folk-style.