On August 7th, the legendary Hollywood Bowl hosted a marvelous evening of American music.
Madeleine Peyroux started things off right at 8 o’clock with a short, eight-song set that not only highlighted her impressive vocals, but many great singers as well. She opened with Hank Williams’ “Take These Chains from My Heart” followed by a somber version of The Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love,” which found her jazz band joined by a four-string quartet, a frequent occurrence throughout her performance.
After Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” she sang her own “Don’t Wait Too Long,” playfully delivering the vocals at her own pace as the melody slowly shuffled along. The guitarist used a slide to make his instrument weep on Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Next up was a pair of Leonard Cohen tunes: “Bird on the Wire” and “Dance Me to the End of Love.” The melancholy tone of the first was augmented by the quartet, and during the bridge of the latter, the Hammond organ danced like lovers focused intently on each other.
Peyroux’s set closed with a great choice in terms of location, Warren Zevon’s “Desperadoes Under the Eaves,” where the narrator is “sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel.” The song would make drinking your troubles away bearable and it concluded with a slow fade out of the strings that sounded quite lovely.
A portion of the stage spun around like a turntable, so in a matter of three minutes the Preservation Hall Jazz Band began bringing a bit of New Orleans to the Bowl, catching a number of audience members off guard. The octet, joined by an additional trombonist during their first four songs and again for their encore, began with “Bourbon Street Parade,” sung by trumpeter Mark Braud.
After clarinetist Charlie Gabriel sang “I Think I Love You,” they were joined by Peyroux for the traditional blues number “Careless Love,” which was the title track of her 2004 breakout album. “That’s It!”, the title track of their latest album, was upbeat and found nearly every member of the band playing percussion together.
Tuba player Ronell Johnson was filled with great joy the entire set, dancing around while the others played in a certain spot. He sang two numbers that brought to mind the weekend. Saturday night was evoked with the raucous blues of “Halfway Right, Halfway Wrong” followed by Sunday morning with the gospel number “Dear Lord (Give Me the Strength)”. Naturally, they encored with “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and left most in the audience in a greater mood than when they arrived.
After intermission, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers (Woody Platt — guitar, Graham Sharp — banjo, Mike Guggino — mandolin, Charles R. Humphrey III — bass, Nicky Sanders — fiddle) took the stage. “Rare Bird Alert” was filled with wonderful moments where the band would come to a pause and sustain a note.
After four songs, singer Edie Brickell, who collaborated with Martin on their Love Has Come for You, and a percussionist joined the musicians for four songs from their album. On “Get Along Stray Dog,” Humphrey used a bow to evoke the sadness of the lyrics. Based on a true story, “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby” is an engaging tale about a married couple that finds a baby and raises her as their own.
Minus the bassist, four Rangers sang the old spiritual “I Can’t Sit Down” acapella. Continuing the religious theme, to an extent, Martin joined them for the hysterical “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” In the spirit of Flatt & Scruggs, Martin and Sanders started “The Dance at the Wedding.” The rest of the band made their way out individually and joined in. The addition of the bass was very noticeable.
Martin presented a new song, “Pretty Little One,” a murder ballad with a twist, with Brickell joining on guitar. They closed out the main set with another train song, which to paraphrase Martin was one more than show business suggests but four fewer than usual for a bluegrass show. “Auden’s Train” is a W.H. Auden poem set to music, but more noteworthy than the lyrics was Sanders’ fiddle as he unleashed an outstanding series of riffs filled with familiar passages from classical works to The Simpsons theme. If you ever need someone to play against the devil, Sanders would be my pick every time.
Although the banjo has long been a prop in his comedy, Martin revealed great skill on the instrument this evening, making it surprising there was so long of a gap between his Grammy Award-winning The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo (2009) and half of The Steve Martin Brothers (1981). And though he takes the music seriously, his great sense of humor can’t be contained, whether in the lyrics of some songs or the stage banter. The Rangers revealed their comedy chops as well, making great straight men to Martin’s gags.
Though the three acts aren’t touring together, all are worth seeking out in concert when they play your town.