Inpress MAY 2, 2006 - by Mark Stockdale


This show was redeemed by an interlude of true magic when, about midway through, the lights dimmed and the esteemed Monsieur Lanois seated himself at stage right before the same pedal steel guitar which dominates Belladonna, his superb instrumental album of last year. With a subtle accompaniment of drums, Lanois proceeded to wring from that abstruse instrument a flurry of sounds which, before they could become familiar, were skewed and slurred into strange glimmers in a new sonic firmament. Ahh, it was as if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars, just like Mother Patti says. As the band stepped back onstage to give flesh to those unearthly notes in a rendition of Frozen, the wonderful drifting sensation was not compromised but perfectly embellished.

For the rest, I found my response increasingly agin' that of the excitable merlot-sipping crowd at The Athenaeum. True, you can't help but be impressed just being in the presence of Lanois, a man regarded in muso circles as a kind of Jedi Master of the recording industry. A casual, almost eye-rolling mention of Bob (he's the man, right?) makes me imagine Lanois pointing an admonishing parental finger at Dylan in some antediluvian New Orleans studio and it's a priceless image. Later he gushes I wish Emmylou [Harris] was here in his best Liberace burlesque, bringing a chuckle. And he shows himself to be exactly the musical pedagogue we've all read about when he pillories his blushing drummer for hitting a 'triad', or when he pulls his eager young Delaware guitarists back from their mics for a moment to exploit the splendid old building's acoustics in an a cappella harmonic trio. But during all those MOR numbers on which he actually sings and plays his rather predictable guitar solos, I couldn't help but wonder whether Sigur Ros in another vintage theatre across town, were managing to sustain for a whole show a similar transportive spell to the one Lanois had just cast over us during that brief but wonderful pedal steel intermission. Here, as on Belladonna, Lanois more than transcended his garland of associations, while I'm afraid his own adventures in song tonight served too much to confirm the suspicion raised by his curriculum vitae: that the man;s genius consists largely in the way he works as a brilliant catalyst for the musical impulses of more inspired artists. This may well be the bane of his existence and I hasten to add that having witnessed Lanois' unique mastery of the pedal steel, I would love to see it exploited further in both performance and recordings.