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Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at State Theatre, 7/22/13

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at State Theatre, 7/22/13
Photo by Steven Cohen

Steve Canyon and the Steep Canyon Rangers
with Edie Brickell
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Monday, July 22, 2013

Steve Martin is known for his comedic timing, but who knew that he was talented with his musical timing? When most actors stretch out to music, they don't often move into bluegrass, but Martin found a calling with the banjo 50 years ago, although he jokingly told the audience, "People ask me, 'Steve, why music? Why now?' And I say, 'Hey, you guys are my band?' Actually I didn't even know what bluegrass music was until this afternoon at soundcheck."

Opening the sold-out show, his backing band the Steep Canyon Rangers pulled out the instrumental "Make it Real," setting the backdrop for storytelling, beautiful harmonies, laughter, and music. Martin met the band when they were playing a house party while visiting his wife's family in North Carolina. He initially scoffed at the idea of a "local band." Once he saw them play, they quickly changed his mind, which led to a wonderful musical marriage.

Steve made it a note to mention to the audience, "You've probably noticed that I have many banjos onstage [five of them]. I like to bring them with me wherever I go. I like to think of them as my children -- which means one of them is probably not mine." Laughter ensued before he introduced the next piece with, "This next song is a sing-along, but it doesn't have any lyrics, so good luck."

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at State Theatre, 7/22/13
Photo by Steven Cohen

Touring behind their collaborative effort Love Has Come For You, Edie Brickell and Steve Martin also found a pairing that fell naturally into place. For the album, Steve would send Edie songs via email, and Brickell came up with the lyrics. With a two-hour show set up for the night, Brickell showed up onstage 30 minutes into the set, charming the audience with "Get Along Stray Dog." Known for her hit "What I Am" from the late '80s, Brickell has  gone back to her Texas roots, allowing her southern drawl shine through in the music.

Playing into the narrative side of the evening, Edie told the story of her mom's large family of 11 siblings living in a three-room home on stilts in Texas where she'd sit under the porch listening to fantastic stories the women told that would eventually feed songs like "Yes, She Did" and "Love Has Come for You." Martin and Brickell exited partway, leaving the Rangers to fill the place with remarkable music. They put their instruments aside and dove into the a cappella harmony tune "I Can't Sit Down."
 

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at State Theatre, 7/22/13
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at State Theatre, 7/22/13
Photos by Steven Cohen

Steve rejoined the band onstage, encouraging them with, "I tell you something, guys. When you learn to play your instruments with that, it's going to be great," before handing out song sheets for "Atheists Don't Have Songs," a comedic tune he wrote because according to him, "I thought there should be at least one gospel song that represents those that are not religiously inclined." The song was wonderfully smart and drew belly laughs from the crowd. They followed up with "Jubilation Day," a hilarious breakup song. "They [breakups] aren't all bad," said Martin, "Sometimes when you break up, you're elated; you're walking on air."

Honoring the band, Steve told the audience, "They are not my band, I am their celebrity," before "recognizing them" by staring at them intensely. He took the stage solo for melancholy "The Great Remember (for Nancy)" and explained his playing techniques his idolization of the late Earl Scruggs. With the passing of Scruggs last year, Martin declared himself the most prominent banjo player in the world. In the fashion of classic comedy, Steve explained his clawhammer technique, sharing that it has more of a despondent feel -- perfect for a summer evening. He said, "The other night I was in my backyard, and my neighbor stopped by and asked, 'Steve, can you play the banjo?' I asked, 'What's the matter? Don't you like the air horn?'"

As the band -- Nicky Sanders on fiddle, Woody Platt on guitar (with whom Steve joked that his name didn't sound real and more like it came from a bluegrass name generator),  Charles Humphrey on upright bass, Mike Guggino on mandolin, Graham Sharp on five-string banjo -- slowly made their way back onstage, Edie also came back for the last segment of tunes that included "Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby," "Fighter" and "Pretty Little One." The main set finished with a fiery ten minute jam of "Auden's Train" highlighting Sanders on fiddle. The classically trained Berklee grad held the audience captivated as he produced every note imaginable from his fiddle.

Martin introduced the encore with another joke, saying, "Encore is French for 'You have not satisfied us.' I noticed that some of these seats cost less than others, so please if you paid less, cover one eye for these last songs." The encore featured four great songs including the all-fun "Pour Me Another Round" (and had Steve's bass player pulling out a beer from a panel in the back of his bass) and transitioning into "So Long Now," and since goodbyes were communicated through song it left no more words to be said.

Critic's bias: A perfect balance between humor and music.

The crowd: Older and either bluegrass or Steve Martin fans.

Overheard in the crowd: Because Woody Platt looked like a young John C. Reilly and his drummer looked like a young Kelsey Grammer, "That banjo player looks like Steve Martin."

Random notebook dump: Martin did a crotch grab during one of his songs. I felt like I was at a New Kids on the Block show.

Setlist

Make It Real
Rare Bird Alert
Daddy Played the Banjo
The Crow Get Along Stray Dog
When You Get to Asheville
Yes, She Did
Love Has Come for You
Steep Canyon Rangers, bluegrass medley
I Can't Sit Down
Atheists Don't Have No Songs
Jubilation Day
The Great Remember
Sun's Gonna Shine
Fighter
Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby
Pretty Little One
Auden's Train

Encore
The Dance at the Wedding
Remember This Way
Pour Me Another Round
So Long Now


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