Leo Kottke, South Portland High School, Portland, Maine, USA. (March 29, 2003)

On Saturday March 29, with complete and utter disregard for proper journalistic professionalism, I attended a concert performance by Leo Kottke. No notebooks, no effort expended to obtain any press packet, none of the dispassionate attention to the set list. No, I simply got my hand stamped with a red smiley face and stood in line waiting to stake out seats in the South Portland High School Auditorium just like everyone else in the capacity crowd.

My twenty-one year old daughter was with me and we managed to seat ourselves three rows up behind the sound board. I always try to position myself as close to the sound mixer as possible, hoping to get the best acoustic experience. It certainly paid off this time. The sound was excellent. In fact, the venue was a surprising delight. Recently constructed to serve not only the high school, but also the entire community, the auditorium has very comfortable seats, good sight lines and warm natural acoustics.

Speaking of "the entire community," I noticed there were audience members from every age group in attendance. Naturally enough, Boomers predominated…like the couple of graying guys in front of me in line who were comparing San Francisco, Summer of Love, Avalon Ballroom gig trivia notes. Still, there were families with school kids, clumps of teens, college kids, all the way to seniors.

Many acts might have had difficulty making the large, plain, stage inviting. But, with nothing more a single vocal mic (his two acoustic guitars -- a six- and a twelve-string -- were run directly) and a folding chair on an old throw rug, Leo Kottke managed to convey nothing so much as an old pal casually entertaining the gang in his living room. Walking on stage without introduction, as close to the advertised start time of eight as late arrivals comfortably allowed, Kottke proceeded to play for just short of two hours without an intermission. He started the evening on the twelve string, switched to the six and then back, added a capo here and picked up a slide there...all of which kept the overall sound texture changing and listeners on their toes. In this performance instrumentals far outnumbered songs. Material was drawn from throughout the three-and-a-half decades of his excellent recording and performing career.

Most of the pieces were originals, many of which were not introduced. He did a marvelous take on Duane Allman's "Little Martha." There was an instrumental composed by jazz pianist Carla Bley transcribed for the twelve string that was astounding. Kottke's distinctive baritone was in fine fettle on the songs he did offer, including a transcendent version of the traditional "Corinna, Corinna" and a killer, bluesy take on the Eddie Reeves/Alex Harvey song "Rings." I was able to double check the titles and writers on Kottke's clean and complete Web site -- a must visit for anyone who wants to know more about his long and extensive discography, upcoming tour dates, tunings (there are even transcriptions for a few pieces offered), repertoire and more.

Leo Kottke manages to combine jazz, classical, folk and blues elements into his playing style in such a seamless manner as to make it appear effortless...except you are constantly astounded by the underlying virtuosity. I particularly think of him as the master of the unanticipated rest, a moment of silence dropped into the cascade of notes that somehow sets everything into perfect focus.

On stage Kottke appears so relaxed and completely himself as to erase any sense of distance between himself and the audience. Nevertheless, he is obviously a consummate performer and kept the crowd entranced and often lost in laughter throughout the night. A natural storyteller who actually assumes his audience is literate and intelligent, Kottke tells tales that are hilarious, believable and illuminating. The number of musicians who could spend at least five minutes telling a shaggy dog story about the writings of John Aubrey (an aristocratic Seventeenth Century English diarist who was a contemporary of Samuel Pepys) while "noodling" on his guitar, and have the audience in the palm of his hand is slender indeed.

All in all, I would heartily recommend to any and all that, if Leo Kottke is appearing somewhere near you, get your tickets, show up early and get a good seat. You won't be disappointed.

[Chris White]

You can find out more about Leo Kottke and his music here.