Martin mixes good music and comedic timing for first-rate show
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers do such a good job blending comedy and bluegrass, they don't need the help of King Tut.
Thinking about Martin and music, it is easy to think of “King Tut,” the ancient Egyptian rap song of the ‘70s on “Saturday Night Live.” But his work as a banjo player takes him an entirely different direction — especially when he plays with a group as good as the Rangers.
But his comedy stays the same.
“You can follow us on Twitter,” Martin said late in the show Monday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. “Or you can do something meaningful with your life.”
Through two hours of nonstop entertainment and a set that led to a three-tune encore, Martin, the Rangers and singer Edie Brickell rolled though a collection of songs from the new Martin-Brickell album, “Love Has Come for You,” from Martin's own “The Crow” and other bluegrass sources.
The music was outstanding. Martin's banjo playing is first-rate, but it had to compete against the crystal clear voice of Brickell, the wife of pop music icon Paul Simon. She can honestly deliver a bittersweet song such as “When You Get to Asheville” as easily as the happy “Sun's Gonna Shine.”
He also was surrounded by the Rangers, led by the virtuosic fiddle of Nicky Sanders and the mandolin of Mike Guggino.
One of their encores began as a duet between Sanders and Martin called “The Dance at the Wedding.” One-by-one the other members of the Rangers joined them and got the song really cooking.
But amid all the music was the never-ending humor of Martin. Like any banjo player, he was constantly tuning his instrument and at one point he talked about a new electronic tuner that was “largely radiation-free, and I can check my e-mail. And, right now, I am watching “Game of Thrones.”
Or he talked about how the Rangers have no drummer, relying on Guggino to set rhythm with his mandolin. There was only one problem being without a drummer, he said.
Later, when a percussionist joined the group as Brickell came on, Martin added a sly: “You know what that means.”
He went through an incredulous questioning of Woody Platt, saying it was just “too perfect” that a guitarist singer from North Carolina would be named Woody. After a bit, he said he had discovered in Platt's dressing room his name actually was Babaloo Torquandola.
The sarcasm even went into the music with “Athiests Got No Songs,” which sang about how the “he is always lower-case” in god-less music.
Martin even introduced his one protest song: “Let's Keep the Minimum Wage Right Where It Is.” Then he sang and played with no sound.
“Pete Seeger would love that one,” he said.
The sold-out audience also seemed to.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.