Garth Hudson's musical eccentricities
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., October 13, 2003) – As the eccentric musical genius of The Band -- the man who with his Lowery organ put the musical icing on the cake of classic songs like “Stage Fright” and “The Shape I’m In” as well as on the group’s extensive work with Bob Dylan – Garth Hudson has earned a certain amount of indulgence over the past 40 years or so.

Enough so that, for example, it could conceivably be seen as something of a privilege just to be allowed to eavesdrop on him tinkering around on his keyboard for a few hours or so, which is pretty much what happened at Club Helsinki’s “Intimate Evening with Garth Hudson” on Sunday night.

About halfway through the show – or at least I think it was halfway or so, having ducked out after nearly two hours, before my tolerance for quirky was involuntarily transformed into cranky (for all I know, he’s still there tinkering) – Hudson’s wife, vocalist Maud Hudson, who shared the stage with her husband throughout the night, said “This is like being at home in our living room. I’m glad you all stopped by.”

And indeed, her description pretty much fit the proceedings, which was something far less than a concert, while being pretty close to what the billing promised – an intimate evening with a musical eccentric.

Not that over the course of the evening there weren’t plenty of musical delights. Hudson’s playing was, as always, spectacular. He is seemingly incapable of playing a cliché, nor capable of playing two musical phrases in the same style. He was the original fusioneer, and over the course of a few bars he ranged from classical romanticism to cocktail jazz to modern classical to standard pop to blues to marching band music to folk novelties, interspersed with odd melodies and palimpsests of vaguely-remembered lyrics.

At one point, Hudson played something in between an instrumental demo and an actual improvised solo when he played with the settings on his Yamaha keyboard, making it sound alternately like reeds, vibes, a Church organ, a guitar, a harp and a piano, almost enough so that one could just imagine The Band kicking in with a rocking version of “Chest Fever” at the end, as they often did after a long Hudson solo back in the day.

For the most part, however, it was an evening of musical stream of consciousness and free association, with Hudson starting and stopping bits and pieces of tunes, improvising on mystery standards, and just generally being his inscrutable self.

Maud Hudson acquitted herself well, especially on several blues and jazz numbers showcasing terrific dynamic and tonal command of her instrument. Her versions of Band songs like “The Shape I’m In” and “It Makes No Difference” were more touching than convincing, however, and her Halloween-like recitation of the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” was more Vincent Price than Rick Danko.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on October 15, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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