I'm stuck in the airport in Denver on my way home from the APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators) conference in San Diego so, as long as I'm here for a while (like six hours) I thought I'd write a bit about last weekend – the Phil Keaggy Master and Musician Tour that I attended at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan – where I'm trying to get back to before the day is over.
It was the second night of the tour and it is a remarkable show. Thirty years ago Phil released his landmark instrumental album The Master and the Musician, an album that has been a favorite of mine since I bought it back in the 70's. To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary he assembled a wonderful set of musicians to recreate the entire album on stage. Ric Hordinski was brought in to play guitar and lead the band, Tom Shiness played guitar and other things, John Sferra was on drums and there was also a flautist, keyboard player and a bass player.
The concert opened with Phil introducing the show by saying that the flute and keyboard player, a married couple, would open with an instrumental piece – an airy moody non-melodic piece to set the tone. Next Tom Shinness played a piece on his harp guitar and then the band came out and began the album. The album is about 50-some minutes long but playing it on stage took longer because there is some chatting between the pieces and some, like "The Agora," "Follow Me Up," and "Mouthpiece" were extended. Almost all the songs were done note-perfect which, frankly, was a little strange. I'm not used to rock musicians trying so hard to perfectly match what is on the recording and it felt a little restricted. That, however, does not mean that I didn't love it. I've been a fan of Phil's for years and his playing was, of course, mind-boggling. The whole band did a great job but I was once again impressed with Ric Hordinski's playing – he drew the short straw on recreating some of the more difficult passages from the album and he did them really well. It was really cool to hear the whole album done this way. Ric said that he cut his teeth on this album as a young player so it was a special treat to have a hand in doing it on stage with Phil. You could tell that the music was challenging but that the band had a great time pulling it off. I got the impression that it went better in Grand Rapids than it did the night before in Cincinnati.
The second set, though, was at least as good and I loved it even more. Phil played some of his classic songs from the 30-year ago era, songs that those of us who have been his fans for decades have loved but haven't heard him play with a band in a VERY long time. He played "Love Broke Thru," "Let Everything Else Go," and "Noah's Song" as well as a couple of more recent songs. He came back for an encore with "Time" and "What A Day." These are the songs that I learned to play on guitar many years ago and still play and sing quite often. I attended the show with my three youngest children, who are 21 and 16 years old, and Meredith, the twenty one year old said "this was like the soundtrack to my childhood." The set was short but it was truly wonderful and that set is among my all time favorite Phil Keaggy experiences. I've heard Phil in concert a lot over the years – something like 20 times – but I've never heard his band sound as good on these songs. Back in the old days when he did these he didn't have a band that nuanced the music like this one did. It really was spectacular.
I had a chance to hear some of the soundcheck and to connect with Phil and Ric a bit and that was a real treat. I've met Ric a couple of times before and it was really great to touch base with him. I've heard him in concert by himself twice now (or maybe three times) and he's worth hearing if you get the chance. Check out his latest recording, The Silence of Everything Yearned For. Wonderful stuff.
So, if the M&M tour is coming to your town make a point of hearing it – it was a great evening.