Review - Tommy Emmanuel
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 20
The guitar god strides onstage, plugs in, and lunges into a no-holds-barred solo. Boom-bip-boom-bip. Whaaah! Chucka chucka chucka. Deedilee deedilee deedilee. Sounds like shred, right? Joe Satriani, maybe?
Nope. Last Saturday night at a packed Troy Music Hall, Australian acoustic-guitar whiz Tommy Emmanuel, a Grammy- nominated virtuoso fingerpicker in his mid-50s with roots in the Chet Atkins-Merle Travis tradition, spellbound the house with a display of matchless technical prowess. His mostly instrumental arrangements of material running from Beatles tunes to Tin Pan Alley standards to his original compositions were rooted in the alternate thumb-picking that Travis and Atkins inherited from black country blues players like Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Boy Fuller. But for Emanuel, plucking the melody with his right-hand fingers while his thumb swung pendulum-like in between the bass strings was only a starting point; from there he hot-rodded the style with dizzying single-note lead breaks, percussive effects reminiscent of flamenco guitar, peals of chimes using harmonics, and other devices to create a pyrotechnic spectacle that earned repeated standing ovations.
Dressed in a black blazer and jeans, the slender, graying Emmanuel
opened his long set with a fast, unidentified guitar solo that sounded
as if it could have been a conventional Tin Pan Alley tune before he
commandeered it. The thumping bass and swingy chords soon yielded to his
trademark techniques: By bracing his thumbpick with his index finger, he
was able to use it for both up and down strokes like a flatpick and play
blindingly fast treble riffs and dazzling cascades of harmonics.
Next was the 1934 Rodgers-Hart tune, “Blue Moon.” His snappy arrangement of the old chestnut featured a walking bass line under the melody and slapped staccato chords on the backbeat.
Emmanuel’s cavalcade of guitar tricks continued in his medley of Travis’ “Guitar Rag” and “Nine Pound Hammer.” He scat-sang in unison with his single-note breaks, and then rhythmically scratched a patch of bare wood behind the bridge of his guitar while tapping out a bass line with his left hand. In the beginning of “Over the Rainbow,” he artfully picked upper-register harmonics to mimic the pitter-patter of rainfall before introducing the theme of his lovely, reflective version.
Altogether different was “Initiation,” his impression of an aborigine ceremony in which the sounds of droning didgeridoos, tribal drumming, and various echo effects all poured forth from his guitar. Emmanuel is simply one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever seen.
Opening was Emmanuel’s fellow Aussie Anthony Snape, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and powerhouse vocalist who strummed his guitar rather than fingerpicked. His well-played 1980s acoustic rock-sounding songs, however, would have fared better with electric backing.
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