When I interviewed Richard Buckner last week, I asked if he was bringing a band for his show last week at Vino's, and he answered, half-defensively, “I'm coming alone, but I'm bringing five guitars!”
He had three, but with nine effects pedals, an EBow* and a voice as weird and rich and harrowing as anything off the Harry Smith Anthology, he had no trouble commanding the room. In fact, the small-ish crowd — maybe 50 or so — sat rapt throughout. Bar chatter got shushed down before it really started. A lot of folks around me sat on the edges of their seats (yep, seats at Vino's), utterly transfixed.
It wasn't hard to get lost in the music. Once Buckner, tall and thicker than years past, with neck-length long hair, took his chair onstage and picked up a guitar, he didn't speak or pause until he finished his set. When needed, to ease a transition, he'd play a quick instrumental passage. Before he switched guitars, he'd capture a run or some Ebowed noise in a loop and, like magic, sustain the music hands free.
He played a little of all of his eight albums, rarely mimicking their record treatment. He opened with a gnarled but tender version of “Blue and Wonder,” one of his finest and probably most beloved, that snuffed out just about all the song's brightness and hope, made it more of a lament. Songs from “The Hill,” his album inspired by Edgar Lee Masters' “Spoon River Anthology” (a book of small town epitaphs as poetry), sounded even more like you'd think making sense of life from death should — dark and dissonant.
That said, and even though he spent two hours mostly with eyes downcast, just slits showing, it didn't strike me as a particularly dour affair. At the risk of wading into hyperbole, “transcendent” seems a better fit. I'm having a hard time remembering a performer, with such vocal and instrumental command, who so obviously believed in his words and their power.
*A magical, battery-operated handheld device that generates an electromagnetic field that moves strings. Peter Buck used one a lot on “Monster.”