Steve Martin – comedian, actor, author, star of TV and movies – is also a really good 5-string banjo player. For reasons not fully explained, he has recorded a CD, “The Crow,” of original songs and instrumentals, and he’s touring with the established bluegrass quintet the Steep Canyon Rangers as his backup band.
Now let’s give him some credit here: this is not some rich guy hiring gunslingers and trying to play the big shot rock star – this is an acoustic string band. There is no stretch limo, and the M&Ms are only brown.
Steve Martin clearly loves the banjo, knows its history and is skilled in two of the most common styles of playing: bluegrass-style three-finger picking and old-time clawhammer. In concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Tuesday, many of his finger-picking songs were uptempo breakdowns with catchy hooks and changes. In some ways, they had their own punch lines like his comedy routines – a habit, I guess. But others were low key and melodic, giving a nice balance. He also played a very sweet and sincere clawhammer medley of traditional songs that were clearly some of the first he learned. He likes this stuff.
So, is there anything this guy CAN’T do, you are asking. Well, singing is his short suit (and he knows it). He stayed within his limits on the few songs he sang (actually more like recited). And in deference to the audience who mostly came to see Steve Martin the big star, and last saw a banjo in a rerun of “Deliverance” on TCM, he provided a liberal sprinkling of witty stage patter to keep the mood buoyant throughout.
Not having actually paid for my $110 ticket, I felt pretty good about the whole thing. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide how much of that was just for the fun of getting close to one wild and crazy guy. But hey, with my savings I’m going to buy his CD and a Steep Canyon Rangers disc as well. It was good stuff, and I want to hear it again.
Review by Bowtie, banjo player with Ramblin Jug Stompers
Read Greg Haymes’ review on the Steve Martin performance in the Times Union.
STEVE MARTIN SET LIST
Hoedown at Alice’s (?)
Pitkin County Turnaround
Daddy Played the Banjo
Late for School
There Ain’t No Easy Street (Steep Canyon Rangers)
Lovin’ Pretty Women (Steep Canyon Rangers)
I Can’t Sit Down (Steep Canyon Rangers)
Hide Behind a Rock
Wally on the Run
Saga of the Old West
Orange Blossom Special