Saturday, January 17, 2009

Concert Review--Danny Barnes

After a few months at Dan's Silverleaf with a constant barrage of cover bands, the best bar that I can walk to starts at least six weeks of consistently good shows (though, sadly, next week's Lloyd Maines/Terri Hendrix show has been canceled). Last night, I saw the king of the avant garde banjo, Danny Barnes, formerly of the Bad Livers.

The crowd was sparse, maybe forty people, though not as bad as some of the shows I've seen there (see the eleven audience members of the phenomenal Hacienda Brothers show a few months before the death of Chris Gaffney). As usual, Barnes didn't seem to care and played like there was no tomorrow. By himself on stage, accompanied only by a sampling machine, it was a quiet but thoroughly enjoyable show.

Danny Barnes greatness comes from the variance of play styles he employs. He doesn't focus on the bluegrass aspects of the banjo, playing music of all different stripes: western, folk, jazz, and classical styles all roll up into one. What I didn't expect was for him to play a solo show in an identical way to how Buckethead performed when I saw him in a corporate office in '99. Barnes starts playing and eventually stops, though the music doesn't stop. He samples himself, loops it, and plays more over top of it. Sometimes that's a full line, sometimes it's a couple of plucks of the strings, which he then samples, and on. Occasionally, he includes pre-recorded vocal samples, including somebody ranting about playing with Bill Monroe at the Grand Ol' Opry. He even played a mashed-up version of Beck's "Loser" which, though the original was distressingly overplayed, Barnes' version was hilarious.

This is not banjo like I'd ever heard before. His skills on the instrument, his humble homespun banter (including 20 second banjo lessons that aren't very helpful), and his generous attitude enthralled what crowd there was. He was a pleasure to see and I hope he comes back. I guarantee that the next show will be entirely different than the last.