Watch Him Go (continued)

The outstanding show contained many highlights that underscored both RT's musical brilliance and skill as well as his quick humor. Hearing Boys of Mutton St for the first time was a real treat -- I loved the almost appalachian feel of both the fingerpicking guitar work and the ballad-like simplicity of the repeated chorus. Hearing the Dylan song Jack of Diamonds performed acoustically fascinated me, in part because the familiar guitar solo is an entirely different beast on acoustic, more understated and rhythmic, with fewer ear-popping bright notes. The Great Valerio was beautifully rendered, very full and poignant, with extra resonance ably provided by Simon. For Shame of Doing Wrong was for me the high point of the show, as even with my clear view of RT's hands from four rows back I simply could not believe the agility of his right hand as it layered the different rhythms, until this once simple ballad assumed the breathtaking complexity and fullness of some of RT's greatest guitar showpieces. Finally, RT's performances of both VBL52 and Crawl Back were among the best on these songs that I have seen. The first, which rivalled the flawless fluidity of his last Englewood/John Harms show, reminded me that RT at his best can make you feel each of the various gears of that motorbike as it opens up; though sometimes I only feel two gears, during shows when RT is so flawlessly "on" in his rhythms and fingerwork he reveals a much more powerful engine on that song. And Crawl Back featured as intense and complex a delivery as I've seen, perfect as the closer for the full set, as many of us were already in encore mode from whooping it up at the jazzy, flashy, always a bit different and always amazing, guitar solo.

Although I had the feeling that RT at this show, as at Ridgefield and Sanders, was so enjoying the music that he didn't want to take too much time away from his playing by talking too much, he still quipped hilariously, particularly as he touched on the musical transitions of his career. After Walk Awhile, he explained his decision in the early 70's to leave Fairport Convention for his solo work -- "I realized they were too ambitious and commercial. That wasn't the direction I wanted to go." Thus he introduced his one number from Henry the Human Fly. And after Henry, when he introduced his work with his ex-wife Linda accompanied by a loudly twanging re-tuning of a low note, the audience seemed to pick up on the musical joke before RT realized he'd made one. [Once he did, he seemed to enjoy it quite as much as we did.] He talked about the mindset of the 70's that led to songs such as Valerio by pointing to the "idealism" of such groups as "the Bay City Rollers, REO Speedwagon...". Finally, when Teddy made his surprise appearance for the first encore and immediately commented on all the pages of crib sheets and lyrics scattered around on the stage by archly observing, "Hmmm, lots of notes..", RT quickly assured him, "Oh these? These are philosophical notes" -- gesturing to one sheet, "See, this one says 'Be kind to people'... That's one of my favorites. And this one here says, 'Have a nice day.'" It was certainly nice for us to see father and son so clearly enjoying their shared time on stage, as both songs featured moments when they positively grinned at each other in delight at, I take it, the guitar embellishments RT has added to these familiar songs over the years.

Opening act Julian Coryell [a decidedly musical young man who made impressive use of both his full vocal range as well as a wide variety of rhythms] said it well when he wryly observed that he had been trying to understand how RT plays the way he does: "I mean, I have twelve pedals out here, supposedly to make me sound like more than one person. And RT has no pedals and sounds like three people." But overall the Tarrytown show made all of us in the audience realize anew the unrivalled brilliance of RT, as a guitarist of course, but more importantly as a songwriter. Sitting there, I found myself wondering how many musicians could perform such a retrospective, covering all their periods from high school to the present day, and uncover such consistent excellence over those almost forty years. Though RT might have paid the price commercially over the years for his refusal to follow musical trends, the result has been an output of music that refuses to sound dated or anachronistic, for his songs strike the ear as just as fresh and full of genius as when they were written. This almost timeless excellence is both the trademark and the benefit of RT's genuine artistic integrity, of his unwillingness to cater to popular tastes and his steadfast pursuit of the standards of musical excellence he has set for himself. As the performance wound to a close, I felt that we had indeed watched a young man go all the way, in a career that has arced across the sky to reach seemingly impossible artistic goals, goals that could only have seemed the most deluded of pipe dreams all those many years ago.