Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jim Campilongo Electric Trio Live at Barbes 1/5/08

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Jim Campilongo is one of the world’s most exciting guitarists, with a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound. He gets great reviews from the guitar magazines, is revered by his peers, yadda yadda yadda, and in case the hype scared you off, you missed a great show Saturday night. He comes across as something of the missing link between Bill Frisell and Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich. Like Ulrich, he loves his dark, macabre chromatics and plays with a ton of reverb and tremolo. Campilongo gets the latter effect by bending the neck of his vintage Telecaster ever so slightly, rather than using a whammy bar. Stylistically, he covers a lot of ground, from one end of Route 66 to the other, encompassing surf, country, western swing, jazz and plain old down-and-dirty distorted rock. Tonight he mixed material from his latest album Heaven Is Creepy along with a cover or two, and some new material from what will be his eighth album, possibly titled Finger Puppet. As the title implies, the new stuff is predictably as ominous and captivating as the rest of his recent work.

He played the central hook to a new one – titled Helen Keller, perhaps? – by turning the tuning peg on the low E string down a half-step and then back again in time with the music, and with perfect pitch. On another recent number, the eerie Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, he backed off a little, delivering it very calculatedly as the rhythm section cranked it up. He awed the crowd with his technique, quickly raising and lowering his tone controls for volume while delaying his attack on the strings just a fraction of a second to create a backward-masked effect. Campilongo’s rhythm section was superb, the drummer alternated between sticks and brushes, feeling the room and varying his dynamics so he didn’t drown anyone out. The upright bassist contributed fluid excursions up the scale when he wasn’t holding down a snaky groove. At Campilongo’s most heavenly creepy, backed by those two, there were moments when, if you closed your eyes, this could have been Tonic, ten years ago, with Big Lazy onstage.

Campilongo is casual and down-to-earth as a frontman, apologizing for his guitar volume in Barbes’ cozy confines (though it’s hard to imagine anyone in the standing-room-only crowd who would have complained if he turned up even louder). Fellow guitarists who haven’t reached Campilongo’s level of popularity will be reassured to know that the last time he played here, it was to an empty room: nobody came. As musicians all know, there’s no way to tell who’s going to turn out, or if anyone will at all, whether you’re an unknown or one of the greatest fret-burners of your generation. Obvious the Barbes owners’ knew the crowd would be out in full force the next time around, and they were right: latecomers found the room too packed to squeeze inside. Campilongo has played Monday nights at the Living Room, off and on, for what seems forever, so it was a nice change to see him venture out to play a New York-area club that doesn’t treat its customers like shit.

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January 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments