David Hidalgo and Marc Ribot The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Burlington, VT January 26, 2013
It was indicative of the engagement of the near sold-out audience at The Flynn on January 26, 2013 that, with one word of encouragement from guitarist/vocalist David Hidalgo, its handclapping kept a (fairly) steady rhythm going for the duration of his and fellow guitarist Marc Ribot
"Up From the Skies" near the end of that tune that suggested how he and Ribot were expanding the definition of "Border Music," their so-dubbed evening of duo performances. Not just mixing up Mexican and Cuban tunes and rendering them with an ingratiatingly ragged approach, the pair drew in country music and a Neil Young
song to effectively stretch the boundaries of the musical territory they explored over their two hours inhabiting the Mainstage.
Hidalgo and Ribot's arrangement of the Canadian icon's "Cortez the Killer" may have been the highlight of the set. Smartly utilizing an acoustic guitar in Ribot's hands while Hidalgo played an electric Fender and sang (somewhat haltingly as he read the lyrics on a stand in front of him), the hypnotic effect of the textured rhythm chording deepened when Hidalgo soloed.
Those were not the only mesmerizing moments that occurred this fully moonlit winter night. The first, in fact, came just moments after an offhanded moment of self- deprecating repartee with the audience during tuning, where Ribot and Hidalgo began to play acoustic guitars together with such intense self-immersion, it was as if they were in the midst of an extended improvisation.
Only if the bulk of the performance consisted of such instrumental interludesor been comprised of a duo set, then one with a full bandmight it have been superior to what the loyal audience otherwise saw and heard. The two alternated song choices seemingly on the spur of the moment, but ultimately created an impressive continuity through the course of a casual exploration of roots music that might well have taken place at one or the other's home or hotel room. The pleasure of playing together and sharing tunes was as evident, as was their comparable instrumental expertise.
With Ribot engaging in deadpan intros and Hidalgo, as is his wont with Lobos, offhandedly introducing tunes, endorsing a local eatery and joking with his partner, there was an easygoing atmosphere to the proceedings that belied the combination of technical expertise and naturally soulful interplay between the two musicians. It was thus easy to forgive a few slightly clumsy closes and not quite perfect vocal harmonies.
Hearing Ribot push his way through Tommy James & The Shondells' "Hanky Panky" near the end of the evening was a little precious, though. And because it was not really clear if he was sincere or engaging in another of the wry deadpan jokes, the likes of which he had peppered the show, his ever-so-quiet vocal spotlight immediately following didn't quite work, even with Hidalgo's finely picked accompaniment.
Ribot and Hidalgo didn't have to work hard to win over the Burlington audience, yet they took nothing for granted. The slow but sure inclusion of additional electric guitars as the set progressed added a suspenseful momentum. Consequently, the quasi-blues by which the duo rocked to the end sounded like the most appropriate climax they could offer.