Andy Mckee and Don Ross Show Review

I can’t even express how amazing Tuesday night was for me. I’ve been playing guitar for far less time than just about all of my friends, but I’m luckier than most of them in that I’ve found a style of playing that inspires me like some mythical muse. As such, I have latched onto it like the proverbial obese child does a piece of particularly moist cake.

However, a few months back I had my mind blown back in pretty rorschac-like patterns against the wall when I discovered Andy Mckee. He will never be mainstream, as his style of playing is decidedly not marketable, and as such I realize it’s not everyone’s cup o’ tea. But, to me, this cup of tea is delicious and warm to the soul. He handled the guitar in a way in which I’d never seen before, using the entirety of the instrument and changing the very way people thought about guitar. In fact, I’d heard that in concert he changes his guitar tuning after just about every song. That concept itself was fascinating to me, the idea that one would change the instrument so that it serves as the medium only, and not the end.

On to the show. I looked at Andy Mckee’s touring schedule, and found out he was playing a show at a small venue in Felton, called Don Quixote’s, about 8 miles from where I live. I decided that I was going to go if I had to sell my soul or my first-born child, whichever they asked for at the door. Luckily for my both my progeny and my eternal fate in the afterlife, it was only $12 advance tickets.

Walking in, the place is divided into a couple different rooms: the dining area, a room with tables crowded around the stage, and the main bar room. The lighting made it all somewhat reminiscent of the bar in The Shining, but I wasn’t drinking so I don’t know if they relegated the soul-gouging prices to the bartender. The crowd was mostly of the elder persuasion, which seemed rather strange to me considering it was a Tuesday night near a college town. Anyway, my friend and i took our seats near the back, which was only about 25 feet from the stage anyway, and, giddy as a school-girl, waited for them to begin.

So, my favorite guitarist and his favorite guitarist, Don Ross, walk on stage and immediately launch into Spirit of the West, the first song off their duet album. My friend promptly starts punching my arm demanding that I look at whatever the hell it is they’re doing, specifically Andy, as she had never seen anyone play like that before.

They introduce themselves as they finish, and it becomes immediately apparent how large a man Don Ross is, and how tiny Andy is by comparison. A reference to David and Goliath is not entirely out of line here, both because of the massive difference between their relative height and girth and the rather bear-like quality Don’s hair gives him compared to the more hobbit-like quality of Andy’s.

Don then launches into a solo song of his called Afraid to Dance, and the arm punching continues. At this point, the order of the set list gets a bit foggy in my mind, but I’ll relate the songs they played and the prefaces they gave them as well as I can.

Andy comes up to the mike after having to adjust it down a good foot and a half, and talks about growing up listening to 80’s music (he’s 28), and how that had influenced his musical development. As a side note, it’s worth noting that he was quite the metalhead before picking up this style. Anyway, he started doing a drumbeat on his guitar one day that reminded him of a song by the band Toto, and so he arranged it for solo guitar. If you don’t know the song, check out the original first before you listen to his rendition of Africa, just so that you can appreciate the fact that he seems to have somehow captured an entire band and sealed them within his hands using some sort of ancient and forbidden black magic.

Don steps up to the challenge and slaps the shit out of the audience’s ears with a rather nice twist on his song Never Got to Pernambuco, in which he hits some sort of delay pedal halfway through the song, and the hypnotic quality it induced really only became apparent after he turned it off and finished the song. I felt like I’d gone on some sort of drug trip. Great way to kick off their set, all in all.

So, they go on to play Rylynn, Andy’s tribute to his brother’s best friend’s daughter after she passed away. I enjoyed this one a lot, because the external mike that is used in the video captures a lot of dischordant notes from the hammering on at the end, but they avoided most of that during the performance because they were plugged in. Little things like that bug the crap out of me and can ruin a great song, but it was performed beautifully.

Other duet songs they played: Dolphins; Ebon Coast, one of my favorites; With You in Mind, Klimbim (the German word for junk), which Don described as being a project in which he’d somewhat miraculously been able to fuse two different compositional pieces into something resembling a song.

The duet pieces, while strikingly beautiful at times, were also occasionally a bit overwhelming. As each of them can play two or three distinct guitar parts by themselves, there was almost too much coming at you at once, which took away a bit from the relaxing and peaceful nature of some of their music. Overall, though, it was fantastic to watch, and each, without a doubt, shone brilliantly when playing solo.

Throughout the course of the show, Don revealed himself to be quite the personable character, almost bordering on the stand-up comedian during his various stories that were usually only loosely related to the material at hand. It turns out that at the very beginning of the tour, a couple weeks ago in Hawaii, the airline lost one of his guitars. I was horrified at the thought, as, to me, that would be like going in for an operation and the surgeon casually informing me afterwards that they had managed to misplace my liver. However, Mr. Dean Markley himself was apparently kind enough to lend Don his personal guitar.

Andy was also quite amiable, but in a more reserved fashion. While Don was up playing solo, he’d be sitting behind him, closing his eyes and weaving his head around through the atmosphere of the music. Of course, the truly impressive part is that he was often doing the same thing while he was playing. I can’t even imagine trying to hit all those slap harmonics with my eyes closed. He never stops impressing me.

Don’s solo songs for the night included: Brooke’s Waltz, named after his wife who helped him compose it. Personally, I thought it was one of the highlights of the show; it’s got a rather ethereal quality to it. He played Dracula & Friends Part II, the name of which was apparently the result of Don’s young daughter telling him that he should name the song after a movie monster, but as if the monster had a Saturday morning kid’s television show. He also treated us with a song called Any Colour But Blue, which was about the arduous road trip to a concert he played in northern Canada in the coldest winter ever recorded. He actually sang, and I won’t say that his lyrical ability was fantastic, but it was surprising to hear that good a voice come out of that man.

Andy’s solo songs: Art of Motion; Drifting, which could arguably be said to be the song that almost singlehandedly shot him into the Youtube Hall of Fame; Keys to the Hovercar, a song inspired by the type of science fiction stories which said we’d have flying cars by the year 2000.

At one point in the show Don explains to the audience his bizarre-looking guitar, a fan-fretted baritone, but without a doubt, the award for the most bizarre guitar of the night goes to Andy for when he brought out the harp guitar to play Gates of Gnomeria, a song meant to make one feel as if they are traveling through subterranean caverns and then emerge into the magical Gnome city of Gnomeria. Andy also won the award that night for biggest nerd in the room. Apparently this particular harp guitar was “made by a dentist in Virginia, of all people and places.” Andy first saw it when he went to watch a Stephen Bennett show, and later bought it from him.

The best piece in the entire show, however, came at the end when they played a duet version of Don’s song Tight Trite Night. Apparently Don was judging a guitar competition which Andy was competing in, and when Andy placed in the top three (missing first by about half a point), he had the audacity to play his own rendition of Don’s song, which Don apparently liked better. I was a little disappointed that the balance was slightly off, so that Don was drowning out Andy a bit. Still a spectacular performance, though.

After the show, both of them were quite kind enough to stick around and sign whatever we wanted signed, and I’m proud to say that I got to shake their AMAZING hands. I was gushing a lot of babble by the time that I actually talked to Andy, but he was really humble and took it all in stride. I was struck by the fact that I had a good half a foot of height on him, and therefore a significantly larger reach on the guitar. In a way it was rather inspiring because it meant that if I ever ran into any limitations in my playing ability, the size of my hand wouldn’t be one of them.

And so, I stepped out of the venue into the cold night air, still rather star-struck about it all, but knowing that I had just been to one of the best shows I’d ever see in my life. If this kind of music strikes you at all, I cannot recommend highly enough going to see either of these two if they swing your way.


2 Responses to “Andy Mckee and Don Ross Show Review”

  1. just got home from their show in hamilton, met andy and don, very nice people. i got the setlist and had andy sign it along with my iphone. great people, amazing abilities

  2. Brilliant post – i love don and andy mckee – incredible players. If you are into instrumental music Rodrigo and Gabriella are amazing – ,awesome stuff. Matt Stevens is good, instrumental stuff and for Mckee type things erik mongrain is amazing.

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