Friday, July 14
American guitar wizard Steve Gunn was in town for a small show, part of his first New Zealand tour – Gunn is known for (and because of) his work with Kurt Vile and from there to a handful of records that alternate between solo, acoustic excursions and band projects – his music taken from folk and blues and Americana and now peddling down the highway in a clean, sharp, indie-pop vehicle.
But to see Gunn solo is to watch and listen and learn of the connections – from the pin-drop precision of his playing through ever-evolving loops of guitar we are taken from the influence of Davy Graham and John Fahey towards an acoustic version of Sonic Youth – think of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s solo offerings, and of the many moods of one-time Sonic Youth and Wilco affiliate, Jim O’Rourke.
When Gunn hits into the opening track from his most recent record, the wonderful, spritely riff of Ancient Jules, it’s now stripped back to a demo-version of sorts; just voice and guitar, no electrics, no drums, but we still hear the framework for the band arrangement, the song – along with all of the others in tonight’s brief but beautiful setlist – signalling to its recorded version while existing in this space as something new, its own – of the moment – creation.
The fluidity in his playing was mesmerising – usually you hear an acoustic player hit down hard so that strings may buzz, frets get knocked, and the imperfections become part of the performance. With Gunn it was akin to watching a classical performance, so completely perfect, yet full of heart and soul, nothing merely clinical here.
It was all at once like seeing Nick Drake and Richard Thompson and Fahey and when he used the slide he had the tone or at least timbre of Mark Knopfler, the creativity and knowledge of Ry Cooder.
He also settled a heckler in a way that might have been better than any other time I’ve witnessed; it spoke too of the soul of the man. A reveller with too much on board spoke out before the last song. Gunn politely described the guy as too boozed, pointed out that he himself was having a drink and there was no need for nastiness or shenanigans – he suggested the guy leave if he couldn’t keep it together, but as he said this he stepped down from the stage to offer a handshake. It was a beautiful way of dissolving and controlling the situation, to which he received a deserved round of applause.
That same gentle authority informs his playing and the material from Eyes On The Lines and Way Out Weather sounded majestic in this setting. A very special gig.