In this day of extreme polarities, is there any way that variant backgrounds and cultures can coincide? Judging by the 2 hour show presented by Julian Lage, Chris Eldridge and Aoife O’Donovan, the answer is a resounding “Of course” as long as the parties are willing.
And willing they were Wednesday night, with Ms. O’Donovan opening the evening with a glowing voice with a dash of grit as songs such as “In the Magic Hour” (from her latest album) and “Hornets” mixed troubadour like tales with sophisticated strums that hearken to an early period Joni Mitchell. Bohemian observances and folk tunes “that don’t end very well” (as she joked) on the heartfelt “Lakes of Pontchartrain” teamed with personal reflections with dramatic chords and defiant declarations on “Pearls” and “Porch Light” mixed the troubadour with street prophet.”
Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge joined the stage just before intermission to provide extra textures for vintage folk moods on a fervent “Good Intentions Paving Company ” and pastoral “King of All Birds,” delivering a hint of things to come.
For the second set, Lage and Eldridge demonstrated that there is little difference between Django Reinhardt and Doc Watson as jazz and bluegrass proved to be cousins from across the river. The deft interplay between the two on “Greener Grass” and “Bone Collector’ formed deft droplets of strings as the two guitarists exchanged strums and picks like table tennis volleys. Eldridge’s rich tenor voice delivered the audience to the Cumberland Gap while the two strummed on the gospel themed “Keep Me From Blowing Away” and the bona fide bluegrass “Things In Life” as the two picked and grinned like Flatt and Scruggs, while the strings bent and snapped like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde.
Sparks flew from the strings as the two got frisky on the free form “Butter and Eggs/For Critter” medley as the frets got frenetic and free before slowing down to an easy amble that strutted down the boulevard. The mix of dynamics had the guitarists listening intently when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, at times coming on strong like a truck on highbeams, while alternatively dimming the lights for a quiet country road.
For the encore, Ms. O’Donovan came back on stage, and the trio closed the evening with the ultimate unifier of sounds, gospel, as the rich harmonies and message of “Noah” showed that through God’s use of music, all bridges can be crossed, and they created a rich bond this evening in Malibu.
Just for the record, I have seen Julian Lage over a half dozen times, and not only has he performed in various formats ranging from straight-ahead jazz to metallic to acoustic guitar quartet, but he has never even played the same song twice! Who is John Galt?
The new season at the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts is about to be announced, but is promised to include Herb Alpert & Lani Hall, Carrie Newcomer and Mandy Harvey.