The Geoff Hartwell Band and Sonny Landreth at the Towne Crier

I go to a lot of concerts, as anyone who looks through my old posts will see. Although it doesn’t take much for me to enjoy myself at a show, I am not easily impressed. Having said that, last Sunday I was at the Towne Crier in Pawling, NY for what turned out to be one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Sonny Landreth was playing there, and by the end of the night my mouth was literally gaping open in awe.

Geoff Harwell and the Geoff Hartwell Band opened the show. Aside from Geoff Hartwell on guitar and vocals, the band is J.J. Clarke on drums, Rich Kelly on bass, and Steve Gottlieb on baritone sax. Geoff is a great guitarist, and his band brought a dark blues club feel to the Towne Crier. The opening song, “I Hate To See You Go,” started off mellow but quickly built in intensity. The band then brought things back down to a soft, suave level to end the tune. For the rest of their set, in between simply gorgeous slow to medium tempo songs the band ran through rockabilly tinged blues tunes. Geoff had a wide grin on his face for nearly the entire set he and his band played, and he made his guitar sing just as much as his vocals. Each of the musicians had some nice solos, and as a band they had a synergistic energy, the individual parts unifying in a wonderful way. Steve was the only one who didn’t play for the whole set, leaving the stage midway through. The band didn’t play as a trio for long, however, for Sonny Landreth joined them shortly thereafter to sit in for the last few songs. The room became a metaphorical inferno, Sonny and Geoff heating things up by trading solos back and forth. Each solo topped the previous one, continuing all the way through the last song the Geoff Hartwell Band played, called “Tumbelina.”

When Sonny Landreth and his band came on for their set, the whole room went to Hell. Not literally, of course, but figuratively — because their music was so damn hot. David Ranson was on bass, and his playing was incredible. He played in a casual manner, but there was nothing casual about his playing. By that I mean that he didn’t play with ‘in your face’ power, but with understated capability so as not to distract from Sonny’s performance. The power was there in David’s playing though, it was clearly evident. Playing with power that is obvious but not full-blown is incredibly difficult, yet David achieved that duality. Brian Brignac was great on drums, and he also played with understated power although it was obvious that he has exceptional capabilities.  (Towards the end of the evening Sonny also brought Geoff back onstage for a few songs, the two once again trading solos). As for the man himself, Sonny Landreth, he employed a variety of techniques when playing: brushing the neck of his guitar with his left hand, stroking the strings with his right hand, at times only using his right thumb, at other times using all five fingers of his right hand. I loved watching him play, seeing how his fingers dance along the strings… He is a truly unique musician, in a category that nobody belongs to but him. I never thought that seeing a guitarist would — or could — remind me of ballet’s beautiful movements, but Sonny’s playing did just that. No-one caresses their guitar and creates sounds like Sonny Landreth, no-one. There’s something sacred about a man and his guitar, and the bond between Sonny and his (well, the two guitars he alternated between on Sunday) was apparent.

Sonny Landreth and his band played the last few songs of their set non-stop, one flowing right into the next. I have no idea were his inspiration comes from, but Sonny’s playing was spontaneous and he played improvisations that were several minutes long. It almost seemed as though he put himself into a trance through his playing, similar to the traditional Persian drummers who do so with their rhythms. Time flew by and when the band’s set was over, everyone in the crowd jumped to their feet as the musicians left the stage. The audience wanted to hear more, a fact they made well known through two minute long applause, stomping, hooting, hollering, and full-on screaming. The band didn’t come back to the stage at first though, and around the two minute mark I was beginning to wonder if they were just seeing how long we’d keep on clapping. Either that or Sonny Landreth was really tired, and I can’t say I’d blame him if that was the case… He gave some performance… Whatever the reason for the delay, the band finally did come back out to give the audience the sheer joy of listening to another song. For his encore, Sonny Landreth surpassed anything he had played up until that point. Because of him my entire perception of music has forever been changed — for the better.

Videos Geoff Hartwell and the Hartwell band:

Mess With The Kid

Tumbelina (with Sonny Landreth)

Videos of Sonny Landreth and his band:

The Promise Land

Hell At Home (with Geoff Hartwell)

Blue Tarp Blues

Key To The Highway

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