Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bruce Mathiske @ the Street: Guitaruoso

Oooo, Saturday was a tough night in Street One. Cold wet weather, all sorts of football going on, and the "world premiere" of WidowBird going off in Street Two across the hall. It was a disappointing crowd for Bruce Mathiske's solo guitar gig, but an appreciative one, and Mathiske gave us full value. I didn't take notes, so apologies if I leave anything out, but it serves you right for not being there - we can't keep getting talent like this in Canberra and then have hardly anyone go out and listen to it. It's the musical equivalent of This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things.

Anyway... Mathiske kicked off with a gorgeous classical arrangement of Eleanor Rigby followed by a sort of country-gospel-pop number that I'm sure I could have named if I knew anything about country, gospel or pop, and then, to my delight, we had Tuxedo Junction. Next was a Spanish flamenco (via Cuba) number and then an arrangement of U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For which I liked considerably more than the original.

What's that, then; seven different genres in about 20 minutes? As cliched as it is to say, Mathiske truly does defy categorisation; he's an unassuming but gold-plated maestro in any style.  Just to ram it home, for his next trick he laid down a beat on the guitar body with a loop pedal and then played a Moroccan-inspired piece over it while playing a didgeridoo fixed on a stand, circular breathing and all (man I wish I could do that!). It was beautiful. It was amazing.

Mathiske followed up with a triptych of tributes to guitar legends Django Reinhardt, Louis Bonfa and Chet Atkins, then a laid-back country-ish song (of his own devising?) called Make Your Bed, which sadly was the only song he sang for us that evening. He finished the set with a catchy, happy, dancy Calypso number.

The second set started with another pretty arrangement of a familiar tune; it was halfway through before I recognised Cold Chisel's Forever Now.  The next tune was a Mathiske original called Fifteen Frantic Miles, which he explained, with his dry shy charm, was inspired by the fact that the nearest big town to his childhood home was 15 miles away -so they only ever went there in emergencies.  

The next two tunes were the highlight of my night; a fast Cuban Caravan (amusingly dedicated to grey nomads everywhere), and then a joyful, gorgeous arrangement of They Can't Take That Away From Me that I truly could have listened to for the whole of the set; I never wanted it to end. But then I am a fool for Gershwin and always have been.

Next was another original piece, First Flight, inspired by, but not in the style of, Charlie Byrd; another lovely, nuanced, agile thing. And just when I thought there were no genres left for Mathiske to conquer, he pulled out an extraordinary Russian piece, then an original example of Australiana called Far Horizon (incredibly evocative, I could almost see the road and taste the dust), and finally, a gentle, beautiful Irish-inspired piece called A Soft Day in Athlone.

I say finally, but naturally we weren't letting go of him that easily. Eventually our applause coaxed Mathiske out for an encore, and he promised us something "fast and tasteless". He was half right! Hearkening back to a group of half a dozen fellow guitarists with whom he jams and rehearses, he used the loop pedal to lay down a thread in the style of each of them before playing his own improvisation over the the top. Endlessly inventive and amazing to watch.

This was a really lovely concert, and Mathiske is a musician I could listen to for days on end. If you missed this, go buy some of his albums - you'll thank me - and make sure you don't miss the next one, if we're ever lucky enough to persuade him to come back.

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