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Leo Kottke at Thirty One West

Leo Kottke, Thirty One West, Newark, OH- 10/25

If you were to walk into a Leo Kottke concert blindfolded, you’d be likely to think there were three—possibly as many as six—guitarists on stage.

But you’d want to take that thing off before the first song was over. Because as amazing as Kottke is to listen to, he’s also amazing to watch, as his left hand moves up and down the neck, his fingers contorting into positions other guitarists only dream of. Meanwhile, his right hand works the strings between the bridge and the body, coaxing sounds that, again, other guitarist only dream of.

Kottke played an outstanding, 85-minute set before about 100 concertgoers Tuesday night, the first of a two-night stand, at Thirty One West. Being in a jovial, talkative mood, Kottke noted the crowd size upon taking a seat on stage.

“I shoulda stayed in bed,” he said. “There were more people there.”

Then he got to work, accompanying himself on six- and 12-string guitar, running through instrumentals like “Wet Floor” and lending his baritone to tracks such as “Julie’s House” and “Weekend.” Kottke’s music contained elements of blues, rock, country and folk – but these elements weren’t strewn throughout the concert; they were packed into individual songs.

“I’m having more fun than you,” he said, as he pointed toward the exit signs.

When he added slide to the mix, the results were otherworldly, as he mixed the resonation from his pinkie with deft finger-picking to create a sound all his own.

When Kottke played, the audience sat in rapt silence. When he sustained long notes to conclude the songs, they exploded in rapturous applause, which he acknowledged with nods, smiles and thank yous.

And there was some good stories – about his German grandparents; about not thinking on stage; about meeting Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan; about getting distracted by faces in the crowd (including his wife’s); and about his fascination with language, including his grandparents’ native tongue.

“The Germans did for consonants what Hawaiians did for vowels,” he said.

Kottke was a force to be reckoned with, filling the small, second-floor hall with the sound of lead and rhythm guitar, bass and percussion with just his two hands and, occasionally his boots, which rocked from toe to heel as he played.

“That was the end of the set,” he finally said, remaining seated. “I’d like to do the encore now and we can all leave the building at the same time.

This led to a soliloquy about the ridiculousness of encore breaks, particularly in small venues where performers have to walk through the crowd to get offstage. After years of this, Kottke said he resorted to trying to blend into the stage curtain, but given that this one was dark and Kottke was sporting a white shirt, he just played one more.

Then, as the audience stood and cheered, he picked up his two guitars and walked through the crowd to get offstage.

“Great job, Leo,” someone yelled as he ducked behind a wooden door.

Great job, indeed.

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