A voice crying in the wilderness

I’ve had my first out of body experience.

February 23rd, 2008, Leo Kottke performed at the Perth Concert Hall. My brother and I had been waiting for this concert for some four months, having purchased tickets in November as soon as we had heard news of Kottke’s impending arrival.

We were a little bewildered at first when two people walked out of stage – Bridget Pross and her bass player. I hadn’t been aware of a support act so I was a little surprised – first thinking that he had a support band, and then wondering if the concert had been cancelled and this was Kottke’s substitute.

Pross, a folk singer and guitarist from Tasmania had been touring with Kottke for the last couple of weeks. Six songs from her new album, “I wanted to” were performed. Now it must be said that Pross has an amazing voice, powerful and resonant, and it quite a capable guitarist. Her songwriting, however, leaves something to be desired. The melodies were quite well devised, if overfamilar (one of the last songs she played had a melody disturbingly like a song I had written back in 1992 when playing in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”), but the construct was repetitive and her lyrics were very weak. Although she might have been writing from life experiences, she hadn’t put a lot of consideration into how she was communicating the idea – and once you’ve heard her sing the chorus six times in a row, it starts to grate.

Her inexperience as a live act showed clearly as well, she hadn’t created any kind of script for introducing her songs or explaining the origins, and didn’t seem at all comfortable talking with the audience, her speech pausing often and hesitant. The word “Umm” seemed to make up the greater part of her vocabulary. Hopefully she will grow as a songwriter and entertainer in time. The CD was for sale in the foyer after the show.

After an intermission of 20 minutes for the audience to empty their bladder, or refill it at the bar, Kottke finally came out on stage at 9:30. A six string guitar in one hand, 12 string in the other. With nary a pause for introduction, he started of into three instrumental pieces on the 12 string.

It was halfway through the second piece that I suddenly realised that I was floating some distance above my own body, what felt like 15 to 20cm above the seat, so enthralling was the music. It appears that I was not the only person to have been carried away so. Amusingly, around halfway through the show, Kottke was playing a slow, moody and deeply atmospheric piece that seemed to suddenly taper off two thirds of the way through. A pause, then Kottke said “Sorry, its supposed to end more like this…” and started playing it again from the middle. Kottke had gotten so caught up in the music that he’d forgotten that he was the one performing it.

Kottke certainly puts on an entertaining and enchanting show – during the forty or more years he has been perfoming, he’d not only honed his guitar playing techniques but also his manner of communicating the audience, explaining origins of the song and telling anecdotes about the authors and artists he has worked with. Many of the songs performed required different, often very unconventional tunings and a 12 string guitar often takes some time to retune – Kottke would joke and tell stories in a manner not dissimilar to Steven Wright, even in the same, deep, dry, husky voice.

Kottke has released over thirty albums since 1969 so there was a lot of material to choose from each show, many of them previously unknown to much of the audience, although when one of the more famous and familar songs (such as “Louise”) started, the cheer rising from the audience was deafening.

The concert itself lasted a little over an hour but seemed to go on for ages. After 10:30, the concert ended and Kottke left the stage to a well earned standing ovation – the applause and cheering seemed like it was never going to end. Kottke returned to the stage for an encore, performing one more song before retiring for the evening.

I’m not sure how soon he will return to Perth but I’ll certainly be looking out for him. After the show, our group of attendees filed out of the hall into the car park, each of us with a dazed but very happy expression on our face.

Bridget Pross was still promoting her CDs in the foyer – I wonder how many she sold?

Leo Kottke official website and Wikipædia entry

Bridget Pross official website

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