Quite often, I realised afterwards that there had been a certain trend in a few gigs I attended in a row. Purely coincidental I guess…but good to fight writer’s block and get a new approach to concerts’ reviews!
Bill Callahan and Brad Mehldau do not play exactly in the same musical field as the former could be described as an indie-folk songwriter, guitar player and singer whereas the latter is more associated with the jazz scene and is probably the most talented piano player of his generation. However, this would be too easy and lazy a shortcut. Bill Callahan’s music has always been something very personal which would not have the same weight if held by another singer. His music has evolved throughout the years towards more warmth and optimism than in the past whilst still keeping this intriguing and sometimes frightening aspect.
Brad Mehldau on his side is a supreme talented and gifted piano player but his musical tastes and his personality have always made him more than a jazz performing monkey as is unfortunately often the case in this music scene. He is famous in particular by his superb and very personal covers chosen in the pop and rock scene, The Beatles and Radiohead being good examples.
The main thing that made me think to link both musicians and concerts was their use of silence either in their songs…but also in the way they once in a while communicate shyly with the audience! I would recommend my beloved readers to read the article by clicking on this Sydney Morning Herald article which says it all on the relationship between Bill Callahan and silence. Same kind of thing for Brad Mehldau either in his capacity in playing just a few notes only, even during his songs à la Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour or when he collects his thoughts while patiently listening to his musicians during their solos.
These two concerts were also quite similar in their stage nakedness. Bill Callahan was sharing his small space on stage with long-time collaborator Matt Kinsey on electric guitar. The latter is also responsible to the excellence of Bill Callahan’s concerts in the last years as his playing can go very quickly from a very sensitive ballad to repetitive loops and drones. Brad Mehldau was playing with his regular trio, i.e. Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums whom I both had the pleasure to see live with Pat Metheny in Brasil in 1999. This rhythm section is probably one of the best ever but once again Brad Mehldau’s strength is to make them play in the same spirit as his’.
Two great gigs then for two musicians whose stage presence equals beauty and subtlety. Highly recommended. Please click for Bill Callahan’s setlist. I did not find Brad Mehldau’s set list but recognised his ending the show with the wonderful “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon.
P.S. No photos allowed at the Barbican so this Brad Mehldau Trio’s picture is not mine.