Monday, May 2, 2011

Give me that old time music

Dikram Gobalian was in town on Saturday. Nobody knows him by that name--he's Leon Redbone to you & me, and nobody has done a better job of preserving & interpreting music from the turn of the 20th century, teens and twenties that this mysterious guitar player and singer. As unusual as he seems in his recordings and early TV appearances on Saturday Night Live and other late night programs in the '70s and '80s, he's even more eccentric in live performance as witnessed at Saddleback College's McKinney Theatre before a full house of devoted fans. The 90 minute intermission-less set was comprised of about 25% humorous smalltalk with his talented stride pianist Paul Assaro, complaints that he hasn't been feeling well (a ruse to set up a string of lamenting blues songs), feigned forgetfulness and playfulness. Amusing as these were, I would have welcomed more music and less talk, notwithstanding his endearing persona. He constantly cajoled the audience to sing along to obscure songs nobody knew (even after the song was over), but rewarded them with a few better known classics like "Sweet Sue" and "Shine On Harvest Moon." As a musicologist and preservationist, he has made a major contribution to our appreciation for a bygone era of unique and outstanding work. And amidst an age in which "over the top" was the only way to draw attention, his low key, old fashioned style set him apart. It was a privilege to experience him live.