“How the HELL does a person play the guitar like that??” Those were my exact words, walking out of Detroit’s own, Cadieux Cafe last night. A little crass? Maybe. Valid question? Absolutely.
Slim Gambill has been in town the last two days handling guitar duties for Lady Antebellum one night and playing songs from his new solo album, Fake Jazz & Theme Songs the next. Anytime you are able to see a guitarist of Gambill’s caliber play, you are in for a treat. However, if you are lucky enough to have an up close and personal point of view, I would say that is more like a feast than a treat.
Last night, fans of Slim Gambill saw a jazzy/rock/groove/fusion band that was incredibly tight and amazing in performance. You’d think that they’ve been playing together for years. This is not the case. In fact, during the band’s first set, Slim talked with the crowd in between songs and mentioned that he just met bassist Chuck Bartels and drummer Jason Gittinger for the first time the previous night. Bartels wowed the crowd with his use of the entire fret board and Gittinger put on a paradiddle clinic all night with his ultra fast snare rolls and high-hat shuffle. Rounding out the band was someone that Gambill is very familiar with, having played with him for nearly twelve years, Latavius Mulzac on the keys. Mulzac wasn’t just there to fill out the sound. There were times when he owned it. Longtime friend Will Fogle joined the band on stage for a few songs, making the full sound that much wider and even did a little soloing of his own.
The entire set felt like a highlight as Slim blazed through song after song but still found time to make sure each member of the band got a chance to shine – solo style – and the crowd was very responsive every time Gambill would announce a member of the group. But when it was time for this guitar virtuoso to go.. Go he went and his fingers seemed to defy how many notes can be played per second and how far you can bend a set of strings before they break. There were people in the venue that seemed to be ok – just having a beer at the bar, but turned around after hearing what was being played on stage. At one point, I saw three people sitting at the bar pull out their phones to get the band on video. After one song was over I saw one of the guys say to the other, “UNREAL.” This is the kind of guitar performance I’m talking about here.
I was excited to see how his song ‘54321’ would sound in a live setting and I was not disappointed in the bands delivery. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll always miss not have Jeff Coffin play horn on stage but the band made me forget, briefly, that part of the song was missing. Not an easy thing to do. The most rocking part of the night belonged to another song off of his new album called,Lyla Marie. The song dedicated to his daughter has some serious bite to it. The smoothest part of the night was the band playing George Benson’s version of Affirmation. The crowd showed its appreciation when this song finished up.
Originally, I planned to only release my interview with Slim on a podcast and YouTube video next week and mention highlights from the show during that episode. But having seen last night’s epic performance I was compelled to write about what I saw. I’m glad I was one of the people in attendance and will surely be in the room the next time he comes to town. (March 20, 2020, but who’s counting?)
‘Til next week when my full interview with Slim comes out, here’s me putting on my headphones for another listen to his new record and asking myself.. Seriously, how in thee hell does he play like that?