Last Sunday, we saw perhaps the best concert I’ve ever been to.
Now, I’m not the world’s most experienced concert-goer, so that praise might mean less than it seems it should. But both Gwen and I were highly impressive by both the musicianship and showmanship of Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. The setup is straight out of vaudeville, with Steve doing the “egomaniacial but blissfully unaware front man” shtick between the numbers, and the band playing the straight man. It’s clearly an act — and a very well-done at that — because during the songs the entire group had a tremendous sense of ensemble.
I’ve been listening to their album Rare Bird Alert quite a bit over the last year, and I was happy see a mix of songs from that and other material. The Rangers also took the stage alone for a pair of beautiful songs from their new album. They closed the show with a tremendous version of Orange Blossom Special, complete with fiddle interpolations of over a dozen songs, including “Norwegian Wood”, selections from The Nutcracker, and the theme from The Simpsons.
The highlight of the show for me, however, came when Steve gave the band a break and played “The Great Remember”. His introduction, in which he explained the difference between Scruggs style and clawhammer playing, made clear his deep love for and understanding of bluegrass music — and called to mind an appreciation of the late Earl Scruggs he wrote just a few months before the legendary banjo player’s death. And as he sat there on the stool, alone on stage with his banjo, I could see the straight line from his teenage years working at Knott’s Berry Farm through the arc entire arc of his career and leading to that night. And it all made sense.