Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review :The Steve Morse Band "Live" at the Iridium October 2, 2010

A line stretching down the street had already formed two hours before  the first show, scheduled for an eight thirty start. The excitement of the obviously partisan crowd was palpable. They had come from near and far, some bringing their young children, to see and hear their guitar god, Steve Morse,  play in the intimate surroundings of the Iridium Jazz club.                                                          

Since the passing of the legendary guitarist Les Paul back in August of last year, the club has become a mecca of sorts for guitar players. They come to pay homage at the shrine that The Iridium owner Ron Sturm has built to the former icon in residence, Mr. Paul. Players come to sit in Les’ place with his old working trio of guitarist Lou Pallo, pianist John Colianni and bassist Nicki Parrott, for special Monday night performances that carry on the tradition that Mr. Paul started here and carried on for thirteen years since 1996. Guitarists from all genres including Larry Coryell,  
Pat Martino, Mike Stern , Larry Carlton, Steve Miller and Jeff Beck have all been featured here playing in Les’s imaginary chair.

Add to this list the enigmatic guitarist Steve Morse who was featured this Friday, Saturday and Sunday with his trio of bassist Dave La Rue and drummer Dru Betts, and will be playing with the Les Paul trio this Monday night. There is no questioning Mr. Morse's virtuosity. He was voted best overall guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine for five consecutive years before his name was retired to its venerable “Gallery of Greats” . He was a founding member of the fusion rock group The Dixie Dreggs, was a short lived member of the rock group Kansas and ultimately became the permanent replacement guitarist for Deep Purple when founding member, Ritchie Blackmore left the band in 1993.

His music is not easily pigeonholed. He plays a myriad of styles that span the genres of rock, heavy metal, fusion, funk  and rock-a-billy, with touches of baroque classicism creeping into his repertoire for good measure.and he is also a prolific composer.
Out Standing In Their Field 
On Saturday night his set started off with two songs from his 2009 release “Out Standing In Their Field”.The fast and hard driving “Name Dropping", the softer, more contemplative “Here and Now and Then”and later in the set  the kick-ass, rock-a-billy drive of “John Deere Letter”, all from the latest album. Therein lies Morse's amazing diversity. His playing blurs the spectrum from raucous heavy metal, to sensitive tonal ballad, to fiery flat-picking, hoe-down music, all while retaining fidelity to each style. Morse plays a Music Man custom Steve Morse signature solid body guitar of his own design. He has an array of foot actuated electronic devices that he skillfully employs to vary the sound of his instrument to suit his need. His skill at bending, sustaining and synthesizing his guitar sounds is formidable. He can also rip through double picked arpeggios at blazing speed. He has a penchant for weaving touch harmonics skillfully into the body of his songs, as he did on several occasions during this performance.

Mr. Morse and Mr. La Rue are old playmates, and their joyful interaction on stage is genuine, making for good performance art. The use of a fan prop to blow Mr. Morse’s shoulder length blond hair as he shreds his guitar, however, was a bit affected.  Mr. La Rue demonstrated his own facility on his fretted electric bass, whether soloing or trading note for note with Mr. Morse on a series of gunslinger-like duels. The drummer Mr. Betts (no relation to the Allman Brothers guitarist), was a newcomer for this gig and he held his own admirably on most numbers. The two old hands pushed him through the paces of the mostly high energy set.

High Tension WiresMy personal favorite of the evening was the gentle, Celtic inspired “Highland Wedding”, from his 1990 “High Tension Wires” cd , where he adapts his guitar sound so well to the sentiment of the song that it carries you to a place where you almost could smell the peat and taste the Guinness.

As if he hadn’t already shown enough diversity, Mr. Morse switched guitars to an acoustical semi-hollowed body electric for a delicate duet with Mr. La Rue on his classically inspired “ Baroque n’ Dreams”.  

StressfestOn the dynamic “Rising Power”, from his “Stressfest” release from 1996, Mr. Morse pulled out all stops. He uses multiple effects and considerable technique through the ever-elevating progression, while La Rue and Betts maintain the relentlessly driving beat.  He finished the set powerfully with “Cruise Missile” and encored with “Cruise Control” to rousing ovations.

What became apparent, as I spanned the room watching the mesmerized faces of his adoring audience, was that Mr.Morse has built himself a truly passionate fan base who truly view him as a guitar god. Watching his diverse style and considerable virtuosity, I found myself realizing he deserved their adulation. One fellow patron had traveled all the way from Santa Barbara, California just to see Morse play in this most intimate of settings. He and a fellow fan from New Jersey had been there for two sets on both Friday and Saturday nights. They weren’t alone in their fanaticism, as Morse acknowledged many returning fans from the previous shows. Mr. Morse will be playing at the Iridium through Monday October 4, 2010. Catch him there and maybe he will make you a believer.

Musicians: Steve Morris (guitars and effects) ; Dave La Rue (electric bass), Dru Betts(drums).

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