Acoustic guitarist Ed Gerhard played for a full house at The Joint Theater & Coffeehouse last night as part of the Argenta Acoustic Music Series. Essentially, once a month, fellow guitarist Steve Davison brings an acoustic guitarist of renown to the Argenta venue where he or she can be heard with minimal distraction in a small room that’s acoustically outfitted for intense listening. I’ve been in the audience for formal classical recitals that were less hushed and still.
Gerhard’s delivery is au naturale; he sits in a chair atop an elevated riser, surrounds himself with his guitar, his Weissenborn and a few accoutrements – a small mixer, an electronic tuner, a hot microphone and a nail file for mid-show maintenance of the long, acrylic-capped fingernails that double as picks on his right hand. He’s too bereft of pretense to have a shtick, really, but if he has one, musically speaking, it’s to take tunes like “The Water Is Wide” and render them in sweet, meterless phrases, stretching silences and giving shape to each line. He’s consummately musical in his approach, landing on the next note in the phrase just a millisecond before the last one’s done ringing, creating a seamless legato. He does not noodle. He does not make a habit of playing lots of notes in quick succession.
We caught the second half of his concert, in which he applied that lyricism to “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” with a shout out to Ry Cooder for his version and a nod to fellow guitarist David Lindley for having done the piece before Gerhard could get around to it; a medley of The Beatles’ ‘If I Fell” and “In My Life” introduced as “a couple of old British ballads”; Gerhard’s own “On a Pennsylvania Hill” and others. His stage patter is intimate and clever; he introduced his version of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” by admitting that though he was not especially religious, he was assuredly “sky-curious.”
Appreciated: a fleeting reference to “Beavis and Butthead” that nobody in the audience seemed to get, his writerly description of the Argenta Acoustic Music Series as having created a “nice fire in a wet world,” the way he floated his hands above the Weissenborn (an acoustic Hawaiian lap slide) as if he were charming notes out of a theremin. Unappreciated: his cheap shot at hip-hop, which went over swimmingly with the baby boomer contingent nonetheless. For me, too, I missed the bite and strum of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” when rendered by Gerhard (and I’d swear I heard the first two chords of Mitchell’s “Amelia” before he started in; bait-and-switch!) Judging by the enthusiastic applause for “Both Sides Now,” though, I was clearly in the minority.
Gerhard has the ear and the finesse to reach up and adjust a tuning peg mid-song, he can quote Leo Kottke (“The only thing you’ll get from a tuner is an opinion”) and ancient Chinese poetry in the same breath and he can do otherworldly things with six strings. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out the rest of the year’s lineup.