Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Hilary Scott
The answer to the question “Where’s My Bow?” is simple. It’s in your right hand. The question is a little tougher when it’s posed musically, as it was recently at Tanglewood.
“Where’s My Bow?,” in that context, is a composition handily assayed by the begoggling acoustic super-group, Goat Rodeo.
On a gorgeous summer night in Lenox, the quartet — Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan — followed the tune by crossing said bows like Musketeers, a taste of the humor that is evident in the crew’s recordings and performances alike.
Ma is a cellist, Meyer a bassist and Duncan a fiddler, but Thile is, of course, known as perhaps the world’s finest mandolinist. What was he doing with a bow in his hand? Showing off, the little shit.
For the rest of the night he stuck closer to eight strings, but in the context of the Rodeo he is often assigned a back-up position. He naturally turns this into a masterclass in what to do when you’re not soloing, but he also plays his role deeply and wisely.
These are some heavy cats, operating at a ridiculously rarified level. They grasp the beauty of making music together, instead of turning it into a footrace.
Joy was the engine at Tanglewood. The music is intellectual, certainly, but the attitude is not. “Quarter Chicken Dark” has an irresistible arc that is passed around from voice to voice in gleefully playful fashion. Similarly, the non-album track “Parallax” broke things down to avant-garde basics, skittering and
spare instead of prolix.
Duncan, a Nashville stalwart, has the lowest Q score of the bunch, but as the evening wore on he became the true star. His tone is stuff to make Amati weep and his technique matches Kenny Baker with Joshua Bell. The fact that he also added banjo to the mix (plectrum style and frailing) only makes him more of a hero.
Crooked Still thrush Aoife O’Donovan did appear, too, as she does. Dylan’s “Farewell,Angelina” found a sweet home in her throat, twining with Thile’s bourbon-and-honey whine; and “No One But You” floated over Meyer’s piano.
Because no one, including the members of the group — even the name, farm lingo for clusterfuck, is fairly indeterminate — is quite sure whether the combo is folk, classical or whatever new age and new acoustic are being called these days, the band — oddly minus Duncan — also got its Bach on, just to leaven the Dylan.
Some old school Tanglewood folks are still waking up in the middle of the night to applaud that. And with good reason.
Thile, by the way, comes to the Massry Center at the College of St. Rose on Sunday, October 27, on the heels of his new solo album of Bach Sonatas and Partitas. You can’t say that you have a new solo album
of Sonatas and Partitas, so maybe you should plan on being there…
GOAT RODEO SET LIST
Quarter Dark Chicken
Less Is Moi
Where’s My Bow?
Here and Heaven (with Aoife O’Donovan)
Farewell Angelina (with Aoife O’Donovan) (Bob Dylan)
Franz & the Eagle
Gamba Sonata No. 1, Movements 3 & 4 (JS Bach)
No One But You (with Aoife O’Donovan)
Mostly Six Eight
All Through the Night (traditional)