The Whole of Eric Johnson and Mike Stern is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts…
Last year, I saw Mike and Eric at two of their four Regattabar shows and they were my top shows of 2013. When they announced this tour in support of their collaborative album, ‘Eclectic’, I knew I would see at least one of the shows in the Boston area. I was extremely lucky to be able to see their shows at both The Wilbur Theatre and Tupelo Music Hall! (Note there is one Boston-area show remaining and it is not sold out yet – Tuesday, November 18th at The Narrows Center for the Arts.)
Mike is an extraordinary jazz guitarist who has played with many greats, including Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, and Blood Sweat & Tears. Eric is a blues/rock guitarist who has mostly performed with his own bands as well as with the Experience Hendrix tours. During the summer of 2013, they did a very limited tour – four cities – which was a huge success. I don’t know if all shows sold out, but the Regattabar shows did.
After the 2013 tour, they recorded ‘Eclectic’ which was released just before this tour began. It is a great album, but hearing it performed live elevates it into the stratosphere. I feel that jazz is almost always better live because of the improvisation that musicians do. Eric proves that at least his form of blues/rock is also better live.
Even though the set list was identical at both shows (as well as the show that kicked off the tour at The Birchmere, which a friend attended), the shows were different. I cannot say that one show was better than the other, although the Tupelo show lasted for two hours 50 minutes while the Wilbur show lasted for two hours ten minutes. I spoke with someone who works with them who said that the first number, ‘Out of the Blue’, keeps getting longer as the tour is progressing.
The set started with that tune by Mike and was followed by ‘Manhattan’ by Eric. It was fascinating to watch them trade leads in each other’s songs in almost a conversational style. It proved to me and hopefully the rest of the audience that just because a musician makes a name for him/herself in one genre, if that person is a great musician genres can be successfully crossed. Eclectic is an ideal title for the album; it implies, to me at least, that they have created a new genre.
These numbers preceded five tunes from the new album. I especially loved ‘Benny Man’s Blues’ and ‘Dry Ice‘ (recorded at The Birchmere show, as were the other videos to which I have linked). Truthfully, though, every number was excellent both nights.
Mike and Eric are supported by two amazing musicians; Lionel Cordew on drums and Chris Maresh on bass. Chris toured with them last year, and has been a member of Eric’s band for a number of years. Lionel was new to me (Anton Fig toured with them in 2013 and played on the new album), but I was extremely impressed with his drumming. Mike mentioned that Lionel might be touring with him next year; I plan on seeing that show!
The chemistry between Mike and Eric is a sight to behold. Their personalities seem quite similar to the playing styles. Mike is effusive and ebullient while Eric is more restrained. When playing, Eric is incredibly precise and Mike has a looser style. They complement each other perfectly.
Mike’s expressions are exciting to watch. It seems that he can’t believe his good fortune to be standing on the same stage as Eric; he grins, laughs, stares in amazement, and shakes his head with wonder. Mike can appear impish at times – in a great way!
Eric is just as happy to be sharing a stage with Mike. When he smiled, I felt his joy.
When the set ended (and this is true for both shows I saw), everyone left the stage except Mike who stayed to encourage our applause. He did not need to do that because the extended standing ovation was well deserved and we wanted (and needed) more.
The encores started with one last song from the new album, ‘Tidal‘. From there, they launched into Eric’s best-known tune, ‘Cliffs of Dover‘. Again, they ‘talked’ to each other through their guitars. Just incredible.
They finished both evenings with Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Red House‘. A fitting end to an evening of musical delight.
For me, there are not enough superlatives to describe the experience of seeing Mike and Eric perform with Chris and Lionel. They are tight yet loose; emotional yet deliberate; ecstatic yet serious. I will go out on a limb and guess that these shows will be my top ones of 2014.
I don’t know if their collaboration will continue although I pray it does. Do yourself a favor and see them if you can. They are finishing up this east coast tour before Thanksgiving but heading to the west coast in 2015.
Ticket for The Wilbur show courtesy of Mike Stern; all opinions are my own.
Posted on November 16, 2014, in concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged blues, boston, Chris Maresh, concert review, Eclectic Guitars, Eric Johnson, jazz, Lionel Cordew, Mike Stern, The Wilbur, Tupelo Music Hall. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.