I recently got to see Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile in concert. I have to say this was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen: the improvisational freedom of jazz… combined with the technical range and precision of classical… in the context of Appalachian style and tradition?! Not exactly three things you’d think would go together.
It’s really quite disarming to actually see what Edgar Myers is doing… and how effortless he makes it look. I’d heard recordings of this sort of thing before, but they really don’t compare. I was about 15 rows back and Meyer’s bass was pointed right at me. There’s just something about the sound that CD’s don’t capture. And between songs you get to hear all of the banter– it just draws you in and makes you feel like they are performing just for you.
Thile was so jittery and awkward. He’s probably one of the greatest musicians in the world and yet he comes off as self-conscious and insecure. At one point he announced a song and said it was written by “two really famous musicians: Edgar Myer and and Mark O’Connor.” He emphasized how famous these guys were a couple of times while Meyer just quietly stood back and waited. “You’re famous, too Chris,” he interjected.
Meyer can say more with a look than these prima-donna types like Bela Fleck and Thile can say in 15 minutes.
Anyways, I remember Teri Gross interviewing some guy from Radio Head talking about how he’d get so bored at their concerts. He’d be bored with a set of songs by the time they recorded them… but after they recorded, they needed to promote the album with a tour. He’d just stand up there and be… totally bored and not into it.
Teri and this Alternative Rock Star had to bask on the sheer coolness of this point for a bit: wow… it’s just so authentic. What a rip off! Come on… you’re an entertainer. Putting on shows is what you do! And this is the best you can do for your adoring fans?! I bet it’d stink to be married to this guy. “Yes dear… I neglected to buy you flowers this Valentines day because I’m simply not particularly inspired by your ravishing good looks at the moment.” Riiiiight.
But that’s the thing about Meyer and Thile. They seem to be completely into what they’re doing. There’s just no doubt in my mind that they are playing exactly the kind of music that they want to play… and playing it the way to want to with the people they want. It’s great. They don’t have to make some sort of statement by “being authentic.”
Something tells me that if you’re putting a lot of effort into “being authentic” then maybe you really aren’t. But I am going to the show to have an experience. Maybe Meyer and Thile have cooked up some of the banter before hand. Maybe they really didn’t want to do the Bach “cover” songs. If so, then they sure fooled me. I don’t care either way.
If I take the trouble to go to a concert, then I want to feel like I’m witnessing history. I want to feel like I’m part of a unique moment in time… and that somehow… it actually is for me. Meyer and Thile are the only musicians that I can remember ever actually pulling this off so completely. They are making history… but in an unprecedentedly intimate way.
Update 3/29/2007: Here’s a blog entry by someone else that was at this concert– and they even have full text of the “you’re famous” banter I mentioned above.