Fez Under Time Cafe 2
4/16/2003 (updated 4/16/2003)

Although this was not the strongest I've seen RT, I was struck throughout
the performance by how, even on a comparatively pared down and informal
outing, he carefully works every phrase, every riff. Able to see his
hands clearly, I couldn't get over how much left-handed style goes into
shaping and bending almost every single note, even in the seemingly
straightforward or oft-repeated runs. Those left fingers are working the
strings so tirelessly, bending and fluttering and shaping the tones, that
RT makes every other guitarist I've heard sound downright lazy in

In that tiny room, I was struck too -- and I mean with an almost physical
impact -- by how much power he generates through both his playing and his
singing. RT makes you realize how much one man and a guitar can really
do. "Gethsemane" as an opener was almost too strong for such a small
venue -- when I felt the floor and my seat literally shaking, I was so
sure I was staring at the culprit onstage that it took me a few minutes to
recall the subway that runs right next to the club. The dynamic
modulations of "Outside of the Inside" were, as always, breathtaking, and
the crisp chord work of the pop "Destiny" explained why RT seemed in this
case almost serious when he noddingly confided to us afterwards that that
song was sure to be a "...Hit."

But despite his ever-astonishing guitar work, it is RT's often underrated
singing that in some ways really catches your attention on many of these
numbers. To hear him go from that gravelly low baritone of "I'll Tag
to the soaring heights of the high tenor range on "A Love You Can't
is to realize how far he's come from that ill-at-ease solo singer
who joked, "I have a solid half-octave." And he sings with as much style
in his voice as his fingers get from those strings, sounding effortless in
his perfectly controlled and thrilling trills and embellishments that give
his rich, warm voice such distinctively musical qualities. On Monday
"Jealous Words" impressed me as particularly strong in its union of very
stylish and assured, bluesy singing with equally flashy guitar solos
between the verses.

While "this small "soiree" effectively showcased the strengths of the
fabulous "Old Kit Bag" as well as the virtuosity of RT as a performer, the
singular warmth and humor of his stage presence came through as well. I
imagine the world might contain a few other performers comfortable enough
with an audience to acknowledge the frog in their throat ["seems to be a
big frog.. well, maybe a little tree frog"],
but I can't believe there are
ANY others, anywhere, goofy enough to start TALKING TO that frog [!]. And
it was entirely at audience request that RT closed the show with two
numbers he admitted he was not confident handling solo. When an audience
member urged him to try "I'll Tag Along", saying "That's easy!", RT in
playful good humor shot back, "Easy, eh? OK, you come up here and sing it
then, smartass!"
before tackling it in good form. "One Door Opens" as a
closer was quite a surprise, as he had very nearly launched into "Crawl
before deciding last minute to honor the previous request, one that
he'd seemed to nix decisively when it was called for by saying, "But I'm
only one man!"

One man or not, RT on his own sounds fuller than most bands, as anyone
who has heard him perform solo can testify. When midway through the show,
RT sought to reassure us that on the cd these same songs, recorded with
the full band, were much more complex and dense layerings of sounds and
textures and "eth-nicities", the real joke was that it was already hard
for most of us in that audience to imagine how any sound could be more
dense and layered than the careful tapestries of song his fingers and
voice were weaving for us right there. Indeed, if this performance was
supposed to be the stripped down, stingy version, my auditory imagination
nearly staggered at the idea of hearing the full band version live in just
a few short weeks. After all, if you're already feeling quite tipsy at
just the first sip, what will the full draught do to you? That's a
question I can't wait to have answered.