Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers July 1, 2013 Heinz Hall


July 2, 2013 4:08 pm

Heinz Hall played host to some of the finest musicians of their generation Monday night when Steve Martin and Edie Brickell showed up with the Steep Canyon Rangers for what surely will be one of the best performances to grace its stage this year.

They are touring their collaborative release, “Love Has Come for You,” which had Ms. Brickell penning the lyrics and Mr. Martin the music. Mr. Martin — actor, comedian and writer — is an accomplished musician who has been playing banjo for 30-plus years.

The sold-out show opened with him and the Steep Canyon Rangers playing “Make it Real,” setting the tone for a night of great music, fine storytelling, singing and a healthy dose of comedy for good measure.

Set list

1. “Make It Real”

2. “Rare Bird Alert”

3. “Daddy Played the Banjo”

4. “The Crow”

5. “Get Along Stray Dog”

6. “When You Get to Asheville”

7. “Yes, She Did”

8. “Love Has Come for You”

9. Steep Canyon Rangers, bluegrass classic medley

10. “I Can’t Sit Down (Rangers, a cappella)

11. “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs”

12. “ubilation Day”

13. “The Great Remember” (Steve Martin, solo banjo)

14. “Sun’s Gonna Shine”

15. “Fighter”

16. “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby”

17. “Pretty Little One”

18. “Auden’s Train” featuring Nicky Sanders, fiddle

Encore:

19. “The Dance at the Wedding”

20. “Remember This Way”

21. “Pour Me Another Round”

22. “So Long Now”

He met the bluegrass band while visiting his wife’s family in North Carolina. “Anne told me that a local band would be playing the house party we were attending,” he said, chuckling at the thought of what was to come. The serendipitous night proved him wrong and laid the foundation of a successful and critically acclaimed partnership.

The two-hour show moved easily between sections with various musicians slipping on and off the stage.

Ms. Brickell joined the group about 30 minutes in, singing “Get Along Stray Dog.” Her speakeasy delivery and soft Southern Texas drawl harkened back to a simpler time. Later on, she told the story of her mom’s large family of 11 siblings living in a three-room home on stilts in Texas where she’d sit under the porch listening to fantastic stories the women told that would eventually feed songs like “Yes, She Did” and “Love Has Come for You.”

The two stars exited partway, leaving the Rangers to fill the place with glorious music. They put their instruments aside and dove into the a cappella harmony tune “I Can’t Sit Down.”

Mr. Martin joined them, handing out song sheets for “Atheists Don’t Have Songs,” a comedic tune he penned because according to him, “I thought there should be at least one gospel song that represents those that are not religiously inclined.” It is smart, clever and belly-laugh funny. They broke right into “Jubilation Day,” a fine breakup song (“They aren’t all bad,” said Mr. Martin), then he honored the band by saying, “They are not ‘my band,’ I am ‘their celebrity.’ ”

He took solo stage for “The Great Remember (for Nancy)” and was joined by Ms. Brickell and those Rangers — Nicky Sanders, fiddle; Woody Platt, guitar; Charles Humphrey, upright bass; Mike Guggino, mandolin; Graham Sharp, five-string banjo — for the last segment of tunes that included “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby,” “Fighter” and “Pretty Little One.”

The main set ended with a fiery 10-minute jam of “Auden’s Train” highlighting Mr. Sanders on fiddle. The classically trained Berklee grad held the audience spellbound as he produced every note imaginable from his violin, appropriately standing in the very same place where greats such as Sarah Chang, Joshua Bell and Anne-Sophie Mutter do the very same thing in a different genre.

The encore featured four great songs including the all-fun “Pour Me Another Round” winding up a night that turned out to be the perfect marriage of sight, sound and setting as Heinz Hall proved to be a perfect place to hear great bluegrass music.

 

And now….some of my own thoughts….

 

*I’m really glad I got to see Steve Martin perform live at least once. If he comes to your area make it a point to get there.

*We had decent seats but if the opportunity presents itself to see him again I would find a way to get much better seats. I’d really like to see the facial expressions on him and the rest of the band. Something is lost when you are in the balcony.

*I was a bit disappointed with the vocal mics. The sound overall was fantastic but there were times when they were singing key elements of the songs that the words got lost. I know on his “murder ballad” in particular I couldn’t make out the punch line at several spots.

*I most certainly will purchase his new CD with Edie because even though I’d never heard any of these songs I enjoyed all of them.

*I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t perform “King Tut.”

*Sanders on fiddle is easily the most talented musician I have ever seen perform live in my life…period. That guy has some serious skills.

 

Before the show I was a bit concerned that he wouldn’t do much talking. Well, as it turned out he spoke between each song. And this wasn’t just him rambling off topic. Every joke was gold. The timing was perfect. There were no clunkers. You can tell this is a show that has been fine tuned. You can tell the guy in the white coat has been working on his act for 50 years. He started off as a kid working at Disneyland in the magic shop. This guy knows a thing or two about performing.

One of my favorite bits went something like this (and I’m paraphrasing here a bit:

“There are some nights that I play fantastically. And then there are other nights when I may be a bit off but I still sound great. Well…last week I got to see Eric Clapton perform in concert. And I thought…he’s not that funny.”

Overall….it was an amazing show. Check out this American treasure if you get a chance.