Leo Kottke brilliant, fun, exuberant

Leo Kottke shone big beams of brilliance around the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday.

First came the guitar playing, then the rambling talk, then the singing, as the usual kaleidoscope that is Leo Kottke shone big beams of brilliance around the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday.

Early on, he noted, “I realized I’m having a much better time than the audience is,” a recognition, he explained, that usually arrives later in the show. His first three 12-string instrumentals hypnotized with cheerful syncopations of emphatic beats, backhand fingernail splashes, adventurous melodic inversions and thunderous clatters that subsided back to the melodies, energized and sparkling.

His first two notes built a groove of each song, but he restlessly changed everything else. Notes charged forcefully from his six- or 12-strings as if eager to please him, or eased out, as if shyly hoping to. He anchored his right forearm on top of the guitar but strummed or picked with great leverage and punch, his right hand floating free.

Having installed the audience in his pocket with these first three instrumentals, he began to relax — too much, perhaps, for those who prefer their shows slick and smooth and without too much talk. Kottke’s conversations with himself were as oblique and discursive as his playing was direct; they didn’t always lead to songs either, or anywhere.

However, he was at his droll yet poignant best in describing how a romantic disaster left the 1950s pop hit “Lavender Blue” as “my song” rather than “our song.” Another vintage pop song followed, “Mockingbird Hill,” and he flowed without pause into the show’s sweetest moment, the Allman Brothers’ “Little Martha.” Familiar as these songs might be, he played them as nobody else would or could.

He didn’t sing at all until five songs in, with “Julie’s House” sounding hopeful and slightly reggae-ish, using the chords and cadence of the Slickers’ “Shanty Town” to express hope for a homecoming/reconciliation. Less conventional — more Kottke-ish? — was Bob “Frizz” Fuller’s “Last Train to Chico;” then he self-deprecatingly told of driving old blues guys crazy asking for playing tips by way of introducing Mississippi John Hurt’s “Corinna,” spiced with an updated R&B break.

He played only 12-string in the second set, applying his super-deft slide touch to Paul Siebel’s heartbreaking hooker’s lament “Louise.” He wove a three-part suite around Christina Rosetti’s “In the Deep Midwinter,” singing his lowest notes of the night in the A-section before diving deep into zippy harmonic explorations.

He introduced this suite by saying he knows he likes it better than any audience ever would — but he was wrong about this, in large part because he really extended himself in the B and C sections. As he returned to stage to encore, after “Ants” and another instrumental that had even more pizzazz, he exclaimed “This is a great job!” and sang his most soaring original vocal number, “Ring Ring,” sounding for the first time all night a bit rusty playing the verses but recovering in time to launch its exuberant chorus to the heavens.

Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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