Guitar Masters? Behave …

This week, I had the pleasure of two concerts to review – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the Guitar Masters. No prizes for guessing which one sucked. Yup. You call yourself the Guitar Masters and you’d better tear the house down. I suspect the review I posted will attract the ire of several internet geeks, but just so you guys and girls know, I really know what the fuck I’m talking about when it comes to guitar playing, and no, I’m not jealous.
The two approaches could not have been more different. The Ukes simply played good songs, showing off where appropriate (and I love a bit of technical wizardry, me), but with tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks, they took the piss gently out of themselves, the audience, and their set. The Masters were all po-faced love me, love me you’re a really special audience it’s so great to be playing with x he’s the one who inspired me here’s a tune that’s really special … oh, stop it already.
Let’s examine the evidence. The Guitar Masters, billed as ‘Three of the world’s most accomplished acoustic guitarists‘ comprise Jon Gomm, Preston Reed and Andy McKee. They are part of the ‘new school’ of acoustic guitarists who hit, slap, tap and spank their guitars, playing percussion on their guitars’ bodies as they play the strings in as many ways as they can. To the uninitiated, it seems impossible, and to be fair, it’s certainly impressive … for a while. I have a certain suspicion of an acoustic guitarist who needs his instrument amplified but that’s me being a stick-in-the-mud. The sounds they make can be quite glorious (Andy McKee’s fan-fretted guitar sounding particularly rich).
The problem isn’t technique, it’s music.
Jon Gomm started with an ok tune which had some neat tricks in it, before treating the audience to a really nice arrangement of Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You. So far, so good. The third tune was quite dull. The same tricks but that was it, and his cover of Toto’s Africa fell flat – when the chorus of a tune takes the tune down in intensity, you know something’s up. He probably oughtn’t sing, either. But then again, neither should I.
Preston Reed has lovely hair. And two songs. The first is a tappy slappy piece which really is just a set of exercises strung together, and while it might have impressed fifteen years ago, now it’s just dull. The second is a ballad played with more standard acoustic technique – and it’s the kind of dull, smooth jazz the 80s was ruined by. The natter level in the club increased noticeably.
Now don’t get me wrong, the audience whooped and hollered at each song’s end (sometimes when they hoped it had ended), but it was as if they were trying to convince themselves. I asked one couple whether they really liked the tunes. The reply was along the lines of ‘you see, it’s about the technicalities … you’ve got your major and minor keys, and this lydian … it’s about the technicalities, er …’. Basically, they didn’t like the music but thought they ought to be impressed. I asked if they’d like it if the had their eyes closed … they were a bit quiet over that one.
Andy McKee was by far the best show. He almost had a couple of half-decent tunes with which to showcase his technique.
But them the three of them got together. They played a Jon Gomm tune, a tribute to Preston Reed and name after some hindu goddess … it involved a really poor tapping sequence and bad singing, while the other two played different tunes, it seemed. Frankly, it was painful. We left. I’m sure that we missed the special guests.
Now, Paco de Lucia, Al di Meola and John McLaughlin. They’re fucking guitar masters.
As for the Ukulele Orchestra … I’d pick them any day of the week.

2 thoughts on “Guitar Masters? Behave …

  1. Pingback: Brighton Acoustic Guitar Festival – The Brunswick, Hove | pete langman

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