Marc Ribot at the Kessler
December 1, 2011
Better than: Not crying
Listening to guitarist Marc Ribot have his way with a song is an adventure. The kind of adventure Griffin Dunne found himself on in the film After Hours. You think you're going on a simple date, but before you know it she's dead and you find yourself being mohawk'd (and worse) before somehow being returned safely.Ribot is a guy who can play, and his virtuosity is matched by imagination.
Last night, Ribot returned to the Kessler to take a small, reverent audience on a wild ride. As with his appearance last year, he began the set with a piece by Albert Ayler; in this case "Holy, Holy." The fifteen-plus minute free jazz piece gave Ribot an opportunity to roam unrestrained up and down the neck of his old Gibson acoustic. With amazing precision and clarity, the song was a warm-up to 75 minutes of stunning guitar work.
As always, Ribot played seated and hunched over the guitar, seemingly as lost in the performance as the audience. Combining elements of flamenco, classical, jazz and rock in his improvisation, each song presented a kind of discovery that unfolds for both audience and performer. The purity of sound he renders from that guitar is angelic. After completing a song, he would typically have some quip: "I see there are some fans of Bix Beiderbecke here. Good ol' Bix."
Besides Ayler and "Bix," the set included Coltrane's Dearly Beloved. For the first encore he sang Stonewall Jackson's "Angel on My Mind (That's Why I'm Walking)." The second encore was John Lurie's "Blow Job."
Ribot cast a spell on the audience. For the entirety of the performance, there was hardly a fidget, a sneeze, a whisper. There was the occasional tear. I have no idea how the economics of that performance worked for anyone involved on the business side of the evening, given the light turnout, but for those who were there, it was an unforgettable experience. And if the opportunity to experience it is ever offered to you again, for God's sake don't pass on it.
Multi-instrumentalist Mark Growden started the evening playing a bicycle handlebar like a recorder, before switching to accordion then banjo, singing mostly original songs that paid homage to his new hometown of New Orleans. A very polished bit of entertainment.
Personal Bias: Nothing bores me more than soulless, technical virtuosity on any musical instrument. This was not that kind of performance. The emotion of some of the passages did bring tears to my eyes.