Smartly dressed in matching suits, save for Steve Martin’s “look-at-me” off-white pants and rust-colored shirt, Martin & the Rangers performed the majority of their set from two recent albums: Martin’s “The Crow” and the collaboration between the two, “Rare Bird Alert.”
The concert was billed as “An Evening of Bluegrass and Comedy” and the night didn’t disappoint on either front.
Right from the get-go, Martin’s style of straight-faced, deadpan comedy — whether it was making fun of one of the band members, himself, or modern technology (there were plenty of iPad, Twitter, and email jokes) — kept the audience in an uproar.
After finishing a song early in their set, Martin quipped: “Only 35 songs to go … and we’ll be halfway there.”
Martin also made fun of the big-name concert cliche of playing new songs instead of sticking with the artist’s tried-and true well-known tracks by adding, “Sure, just play the hits…well, we don’t have any hits.”
He also made light of the seemingly weird dichotomy of world famous comedian/actor Martin touring with a bluegrass band: “I know what you’re thinking, ‘Steve Martin — just another Hollywood dilettante riding the bluegrass gravy train.’”
Visually, with his silver hair and coat and tie, Martin looked like a college professor leading a handful of his young students through a “Bluegrass 101” class, except this band — the Rangers — had already easily earned its Masters in pure, Appalachian Mountain-style American music.
To show off his amazing band, Steve exited the stage about mid-way through the concert to hand over the spotlight to the Rangers for a couple of tunes. First they delved into a lovely instrumental that sounded as if bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys were in the house.
Then they showed off their other major attribute — their angelic vocal harmonies. The way they would all huddle around one microphone — hunched together like brothers — to blend their separate vocal ranges into one singular voice was spellbinding.
Bluegrass without gorgeous, clean harmonies simply isn’t true bluegrass.
“If you’re not enjoying the show so far, you’re wrong,” Steve insisted.
From the opening twangy riff to the set-closing encore (“‘Encore’ is French for ‘you have not satisfied us,’” explained Martin), the audience hung on each lyric, ready and waiting for the inevitable punchline. How many times can you say you sat on the edge of your seat at a concert for the singer to sing something funny?
One gets the distinct impression that with all that Martin has done and accomplished in his performing career, he may have been just as happy playing a banjo and telling jokes all these years.
This night was Steve Martin at his core.
For a look at future concerts, visit www.pechanga.com.
Christ Baptiste is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.