LIVE: Eric Johnson @ Cohoes Music Hall, 3/7/18
Review by Mark Alexander Hudson
Those hardy souls who braved the recent mid-week snow storm to attend Eric Johnson’s concert at the Cohoes Music Hall were treated to a phenomenal display of guitar pyrotechnics.
Johnson is best known for his 1990 album Ah Via Musicom, which contained his sole radio “hit,” “Cliffs of Dover.” This melodic gem also won him the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental the following year. His current tour showcases that entire album from start to finish in his second set. He is also accompanied by the core rhythm section that played on the original recording – Tommy Taylor on drums and Kyle Brock on bass. At Cohoes, they both negotiated the twists and turns of this at times complex material with practiced ease.
Johnson is a somewhat shy and restrained performer, his gangly frame hunched over his instrument, rarely making eye contact with the audience. But the music he creates flows directly from his soul, through his fretboard and into our hearts.
The music is varied & refreshingly hard to pin down. There are elements of jazz, blues, hard rock, prog, even country in Johnson’s playing. But what separates him from the “Look Ma how fast” tiresome noodlings of the shred brigade he is sometimes unfairly lumped in with, is his taste, feel and melodic inventiveness. Brevity may well be the soul of wit, but that goes for guitar solos, too, and Johnson’s never outstay their welcome.
His eclecticism is borne out by his varied choice of covers – from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to The Chantays – all dispatched with a unique spin. Johnson is an absolute master of tone as well, switching from bright clear
ringing patterns into cascading Holdsworth-like sheets of notes in bewildering fashion, sometimes within the same riff or run.
Words are pretty inadequate to describe just how good this guy is – simply put, if you are a fan of great guitar playing go & see him.
Special mention must be made of Arielle, Johnson’s special guest and far more than just a support act. She opened with a half-hour solo set that highlighted her own prowess on electric and acoustic guitar as well as piano, and her crystal clear voice. Particularly affecting was the gorgeous Celtic flavored “Magick Again.” She has also co-written songs with Johnson and joined in with the headliner in both of his sets, singing lead on her own “Wanderlust” and trading fiery lead breaks on the encore “Zap.”
As the crowd rose to their feet at the end of this scintillating show, a fan behind me shouted “Other worldly!”
Yeah, pretty much.
ARIELLE SET LIST
Voices in my Head
A Love That Never Dies
ERIC JOHNSON SET LIST
Trail of Tears
The Night Before (The Beatles)
Black Mountain Side (Led Zeppelin)
C.W. (bass & drums)
Camel’s Night Out
Pipeline (The Chantays)
Ah Via Musicom
Cliffs of Dover
Nothing Can Keep Me from You
Song for George
Forty Mile Town