Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Another review of Steve at the Rubin
Vanity Fair Online
Steve Martin, Bodhisattva on Banjo
by David Friend
May 29, 2009, 12:42 PM
Steve-Martin_88025699.jpgActor and musician Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers perform at Rubin Museum of Art on May 27, 2009 in New York City. By Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
The redoubtable Steve Martin, comedian-actor-playwright-novelist-essayist-vocalist and balloon-sculpture model, is also a first-rate bluegrass artist, as evidenced this week in his series of banjo jamborees with the Steep Canyon Rangers at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art.
His concert last night, “A Tentative Evening of Bluegrass,” was that giddy amalgam we’ve come to expect from the inimitable Martin: equal parts deadpan, Tin Pan, and pandemonium, with gusts of “A Mighty Wind,” Victor Borge, and P.D.Q. Bach. The setting set the tone. Manhattan’s premiere showcase for Himalayan Art, the Rubin (known for its unrivaled and always eclectic Buddhist-chic slate of performances, lectures, and screenings) has literally zero thematic overlap with bluegrass. But that didn’t stop the Rubin’s inventive producer, Tim McHenry (a former Vanity Fair staffer), from booking Martin and justifying it thusly: “In 2003, musicologists from the University of North Carolina went to Tibet to explain the connection between bluegrass and Tibetan culture. And they found they had something in common: Plucking.” (Music, McHenry posited, is sometimes a reliable path to enlightenment. And rare is the venue in which entertainers can make reference to both a mountaintop bodhisattva and the Foggy Mountain Boys.)
The sextet of Martin and the hirsute, lightning-fingered Steep Canyon Rangers (whose “Lovin’ Pretty Woman” was nominated in 2008 for Bluegrass Album of the Year) went through a boisterous, rollicking, frolicking set that was transcendent in its own whacked-out way. Fiddler Nicky Sanders’s stroking stoked the crowd. Mike Guggino lovingly attacked his mandolin. Guitarist-vocalist Woody Platt, resembling a young Andy Griffith, delivered Glen Campbellished, Del McCoury-ian vocals. And Martin, throughout, was polished, poised, and hilarious.
The four highlights of the night: the Johnny Cash-Goes-To-Kashmir “Song of the Old West” (rechristened “Song of the Old East,” with some subtle raga inflections); the homey, way-Wobegon “Late For School”; the exquisitely heart-warming and electric “Orange Blossom Special” (with Sanders effecting a fiddle-fueled freight train); and Martin’s “The Crow,” performed as a banjo menage-a-trois, thanks to a cameo by Tony Trischka. (Earlier this year, Martin’s song “The Crow,” as the comedian explained, “actually became a minor hit on the bluegrass charts [which means] it’s a big hit on the bluegrass charts, selling, oh, 700 copies.”)
By the end of the night, every cell in this listener’s frame was delightfully athrob.
Steve at the Rubin Museum of Art with good pics
Posted in music | pictures on May 29, 2009
Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers in NYC - a review
Below is a proper review of Thursday night's show to go along with Ryan Muir's pictures....
Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
The Rubin Museum Of Art
Thursday 28th May, 9.30pm set
by Martin Longley
Steve Martin elected to dub his show A Tentative Evening Of Bluegrass, perhaps guarding in advance against the obvious tendency of his audience asking the question of whether a comedian is also allowed to play the banjo. Woody Allen has faced the same grilling over his clarinet abilities. This is always the way when an artist shifts disciplines, whether from acting to rock'n'roll, from rock'n'roll to photography, from movies to fashion design, from boxing to perfumery or from pop to porn. Martin recorded The Crow: New Songs For The Five-String Banjo in New Jersey, but you'd never guess. It's now riding high in the bluegrass charts.
Three not surprisingly sold-out shows over two nights at The Rubin Museum Of Art demonstrate his picking skills in a decisive fashion. This is a venue that insists on a regime of completely acoustic performance, and that stipulation is ideal for bringing the music right back to its absolute roots. Martin's fronting The Steep Canyon Rangers from Asheville, North Carolina, a youngish quintet that adopt the classic bluegrass formation of guitar (Woody Platt), fiddle (Nicky Sanders), upright bass (Charles R. Humphrey III), banjo (Graham Sharp), mandolin (Mike Guggino) and compulsory vocalising for all. The only element that isn't traditional is the presence of Martin himself, making up a two-banjo attack. But Sharp isn't here to shadow Martin, to support his untried skills. No. Often, the two are alternating phrases in call-and-response, or Sharp is sitting out whilst Martin plays lead. It's more like a twin-pronged soloist set-up. Martin is frequently right out front, spotlighting his fleet skills. He's not a hammerer, but more of a silvery skater.
Some of Martin's songs began their evolution over four decades ago, and have only been completed recently. He's been playing the banjo since he was a kid, and is a genuine enthusiast rather than a casual dilettante. Martin playing some intricate lead phrases, and offering the occasional vocal. His non-amplified projection skills are impressive, as he quips in-between songs. Martin might mock himself, the band, the audience and, indeed, the whole of existence itself, but once the music commences, a serious focus sharpens.
He considered the lyrics for "Daddy Played The Banjo" as bad poetry, but also the makings of a good country song. Martin's odd-tune-out is "Late For School", a racing comedy number where his vocals take centre-stage. There's also a tribute to bluegrass king Bill Monroe, with readings of "Orange Blossom Special" and "Sitting On Top Of The World" (not the old blues chestnut). The Himalayan-obsessed Rubin usually asks its visiting artists to pen a piece that's inspired by an exhibit in the museum, but Martin merely elects to switch "Saga Of The Old West" to "Saga Of The Old East". He's fighting the onstage heat, with persistent banjo tuning problems, which is all good fodder for wisecracks (the changing room temperature is generated by the audience's rapidly-shifting hot-then-cold attention-span!). The rapport between Martin and his Rangers is startling, even they've only been working together for a short spell. When Martin vacates the stage, leaving them to play a pair of tunes from their accustomed repertoire, it's a chance to hear how different their band personality can be when operating independently. These are more song-based pieces. Martin returns, and in the trusty way, everyone gets to step forward, delivering their solo flashes, all of them highly expressive. And then, out comes Tony Trischka for a three-banjo tussle, reprising his 2007 collaboration with Martin. This is prime entertainment, as parodic comedy chaos is grafted onto sheer musical substance. The compulsive charisma of Martin is witnessed at close range, his banjoman reputation is solidified, bluegrass music continues its re-revival and The Steep Canyon Rangers increase their profile immeasurably.
More about this show, with full picture set, HERE.
Journalist covering China, environment, architecture and culture
Posted: May 29, 2009 02:49 PM
Steve Martin on Banjo at the Rubin: "My Hit Single 'King Tut' Was Not a Fluke"
He may have lost to Kris Allen on American Idol, but Steve Martin and his banjo album "The Crow" landed on the pop charts this week, his first time back there since 1981's EP "The Steve Martin Brothers." Yet if we were guessing that his new Billboard status might have had something to do with his brand name or the bluegrass firepower he brings with him on his new record - Mary Black, Vince Gill, Tim O'Brien, Dolly Parton along with banjo masters Earl Scruggs, Pete Wernick and Tony Trischka - the joke is, well, on us.
That was the verdict last night at the Rubin Museum of Art, after the award winning comedian-actor-playwright-novelist-memoirist rounded out an intimate two-night residency with a mesmerizing display of banjo pickin', songwritin', a bit of singing (his voice doesn't quite warrant the apostrophe) and, yes, jokes. "This is a song," he began with a folkly lilt, "well -- that pretty much says it." Even tuning his instrument between songs drew hair-trigger giggles and hollers.
But it was the songs themselves that drew the biggest reaction. How did it feel to be on the pop charts again after 27 years, I asked him later. "This proves that my hit single, "King Tut," was not a fluke."
The comedian known for his wacky banjo playing seemed a little determined to be something more like the banjo player with the wacky sense of humor. Why else had he traded his trademark white suit for near-black pinstripes? "Beats me," shrugged his wife Anne Stringfield when we asked. "The gravitas?"
On the nostalgic "Daddy Played the Banjo," Martin showed off not only some deft and swift fingering but revealed a lyrical imagination refreshingly heart-felt (the lyrics came from an intentionally bad poem he wrote, but "they made for a good country song"). Even the funny song he sings, "Late for School," had a down-home sweetness to it, and wouldn't be out of place on a children's album, which isn't a bad thing at all.
If, for a moment, the city slicker audience managed to pull its eyes away from Martin, they might have thought they were in the hands of a some progressive Carolinian master. (And they were in the hands of a few: halfway through, Martin left the stage to let his backup band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, take over for a rollicking virtuosic performance.)
But the audience was stuck on the wild and crazy Renaissance guy, hanging on every pluck and quip, and probably at times thinking something like, he's not funny or awe-inspiring - he is a little scary. Agnes Gund, a pal through Martin's art collecting, sat glued down in front. "I've known him for years but never seen this before," she said afterward. "He's really great."
There was modesty and fake pompousness ("I'm in front here, because, you know, I'm the guy," he explained. Later: "I made a deal with Graham [Sharp, the other banjo player] - every time I make a mistake he has to make one too.")
But he also crushed any doubts about his chops with "Clawhammer Melody," a mash-up of standards on which he showed off the unusual style of clawhammering, or frailing. Instead of being pulled by three fingers, like the way Earl Scruggs does it, Martin depresses the banjos's strings with five fingers - a particularly challenging technique, but one at which he's considered a master.
He's also a master at some other things, and he took plenty of opportunities to hit comedic notes. He did it effortlessly too, without anything like a routine. "This song is so great that I wish I wrote it," he said of "Orange Blossom Special," an old train standard. "And I was thinking about it recently, and I realized, 'Hey, I did write it!'"
He didn't, but he did change one line, intoning the chorus that first made him famous: "King Tut!"
Before he played his new album's title track, an eye-opening duo with banjo master Trischka, Martin said it had became a minor hit in the bluegrass world.
"And in the bluegrass world," he quipped, "a minor hit is a major hit."
Steve will perform two shows tomorrow night at the Grand Ole Opry, accompanied by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, John McEuen and Tim O'Brien. And he'll be on the Jimmy Fallon Show on Tuesday.
Keep updated on Steve's Banjo Tour Dates
I haven't found anywhere that documents the changing tour dates from Steve's end. But the Steep Canyon Rangers have a constantly updated tour section that I recommend. You can tell which dates are with Steve since they have his pic at the side. Go to: http://www.steepcanyon.com/tour/.
Besides you can hear the Steep Canyon Rangers' music while you browse. They're very good.
No Steve at the New Yorker Festival This Year
The headline says it all -- Steve has other things to do, like pursue his new career as a musician.
Steve and the Steep Canyon Rangers
Wild 'n' crazy bluegrass: Steep Canyon Rangers, Steve Martin start tour in Brevard
Tony Kiss • published September 6, 2009 12:15 am
BREVARD [N.Carolina] – Asheville's Steep Canyon Rangers have traveled a long road since the old days, when they were playing bluegrass at Jack of the Wood, the Town Pump and the Harvest Festival in Fairview.
This fall, they're on the road with an upcoming CD, “Deep in the Shade,” shows at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and other famed venues — and a new partner: Steve Martin. Yes, THAT Steve Martin, the film star who's also an accomplished banjo picker.
The Martin-Rangers tour opens at the sold-out Mountain Song Festival on Saturday on the grounds of Brevard Music Center. Then the gang hits the road for a national tour with the Rangers serving as Martin's band.
“He's a great banjo picker,” said Rangers guitarist and singer Woody Platt. “People know him as a comedian and actor and writer, but he's always played banjo. He has a unique style that fits right into bluegrass music.”
The players are taking this opportunity seriously, Platt said.
“It's not a comedy show,” he said. “Naturally, he's the emcee and does almost all the talking, and that somehow turns into jokes. But the main thing is about the music.”
Martin is happily sharing the spotlight with the Rangers: Platt, Graham Sharp on banjo, Mike Guggino on mandolin, Charles R. Humphrey III on bass and Nicky Sanders on fiddle. The actor and the band met through a Platt family connection.
Hooking up with Martin “is the biggest thing that has happened to us,” Platt said. “It's generated the biggest press that we've had. But we are pretty focused. We have come a long way, and it hasn't been easy or for lack of effort.”
Taking the road with Martin would have been sweet enough, but the band's new CD drops Oct. 6, the same night they're playing New York's legendary Carnegie Hall. “That's one of the top venues that I always wanted to play,” along with the Grand Ole Opry, he said. “The Opry happened, and now Carnegie is about to happen.”
Since forming a decade ago at UNC Chapel Hill, the Rangers have always kept North Carolina in their hearts. One of the band's earliest breaks came in 2002, when they won the bluegrass competition at the Mountain State Fair and opened for Earl Scruggs. Four years ago, Platt and musician John Felty, of the band Jupiter Coyote, launched the Mountain Song Festival, which has grown into a major local event.
The same year, the band took the Emerging Artists of the Year honors at the International Bluegrass Music Awards, giving them a national launching pad. And in 2007, their CD “Lovin' Pretty Women” was nominated for the IBMA's Album of the Year.
The 15-city tour with Martin is sure to be a whirlwind, but halfway through “we have to jump off and do a couple shows that were (previously) booked,” Platt said. “Then we go back at it. That's the way it is with bluegrass.”
Steve and Banjo in London (England)
Steve Martin @ Southbank Centre
"Steve Martin - how come you're not funny anymore," inquired Dennis Pennis in a notorious red carpet moment over a decade ago. Well, Martin has many more strings to his bow than his all-but-forgotten interlocutor. On 9 November, the white-haired entertainer comes to the Southbank Centre with his bluegrass band The Steep Canyon Rangers for his first UK appearance behind a banjo. Tickets are on sale from today for Southbank members, and from Thursday for non-members. Prices start from £25. Here's a preview of the great man twanging his banjo, and you can listen to his infectious new album 'The Crow' on Spotify.
By M@ in Arts & Events on September 15, 2009 10:18 AM