show review

Andy McKee @ Kent Stage 11/14/13

Chad W. Lutz
The wind was biting and the sun had set far too many hours before. It's never easy to get used to the time changes. The loss of sun almost seems to suck the very breath out of the world once the sun slips past the hip of the horizon…at 4:00pm. It never fails to throw everything off in my life, even if nothing is actually out of place or sync. Things just sort of stick to the wall that way when it gets dark around summer's midafternoon. Luckily, there's such a thing as live music with good humans to distract us from the elements.

Last night, guitar virtuoso Andy McKee performed at the Kent Stage with special guest Brian Henke. Was it Miley Cyrus with special guest The Jonas Brothers? No. Hell no. But it was probably just as entertaining without the shameless tongue wagging and foam-finger fucking. Even McKee, citing his affinity for blue jeans and t-shirts, said he was happy to spare us from any sort of performance where you might find him half-naked and swinging from a wrecking ball. Andy, I like you already.
Andy McKee perfoming with his signature harp guitar. The instrument combines acoustic bass and traditional guitar string into a single lute. (thearches.co.uk)
During the show, McKee admitted the crowd was, "one of the smallest," he had played to on his recent tour. But, despite the smaller audience, the 34-year old musician couldn't have been more thrilled to be in Kent. It was his second time playing in The Tree City, but you would have thought it was his first time playing Radio City Music Hall. Not only did McKee's enthusiasm show in his play and overall demeanor, it also appeared in his sincere appreciation of his fans. Busy on social media throughout the day leading up to the show, McKee took the time to actually directly respond to fans and take requests for the upcoming show, which he then honored on stage and even referred to said fans by name. After the show, Andy immediately took to his merchandise table to sign autographs, take photos, and converse with concertgoers, all while wearing a smile that seemed to leap to the far corners of the entranceway.

The first song he played was what most came to see: "Drifting", a now YouTube sensation featuring nearly 50 million views since Andy first posted the video in 2006. The crowd gleeked in giddy satisfaction with the very first chords, eliciting a smile I soon realized was signature on the guitarist's face. Other songs that brought on similar reactions were "Rylynn" and two arrangements (to call them covers would be a disservice) of eighties songs; Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and Toto's "Africa". Both were jaw-dropping; all were jaw-dropping. There were times I had to blink just to remind myself the images before me were taking place in real life (also because I had been up since 4:00am and I was Chad's complete struggle against sleep).

McKee took the arrangements and made them his own, using the acoustic guitar as a percussion instrument and infusing the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms together seamlessly to produce what it took the original bands an entire crew to put together with only six strings. Shit. His original pieces were soft, soothing, beautiful, moving, and made memorable by the sheer ingenuity and seemingly effortless talent he demonstrates. It was like getting two shows for one. You could close your eyes and simply enjoy the absolutely gorgeous sounds he could create with his guitars or watch in awe as he made an instrument sometimes downplayed for its simplicity into one of the most complex tools of music I've probably ever seen.

Talk with Andy McKee and you'll find an easy-going and down-to-Earth human being. Watch him play anything with strings and you'll think he's from anywhere but Earth. Hailing from Topeka, KS, the unassuming man you might pass up on the street as just another soul plodding along the dialectic of Life is one of the foremost guitar virtuosos on the planet, and perhaps several others. He's been playing professionally for more than a decade and has toured with the likes of Dream Theater and Prince. On stage talking about this past summer's tour with the artist formerly known as the The Artist formerly known as Prince, McKee mentioned what a strange but gratifying privilege it was to go on tour with Prince.

"I got an email from Prince's people just before we went on tour, and the subject just said, 'This Is Your Outfit'." Apparently Prince had a few ideas for McKee's wardrobe, which most notably included a giant, 50-foot, purple cape used as a backdrop for astral projections of "planets and stars being born" Andy would wear and unravel across the stage (Prince's symbol) behind him during an opening number.

"I said, 'No," Andy confided with another bright smile and short laugh.

One of the most entertaining aspects of McKee's play is his ability to genuinely entertain, not just with his guitar, but as an individual. Watching Andy McKee perform live is almost like watching the sunrise. There are so many complex pieces parts to it there really are no words to do it justice and you just have to sit there and take it all in. Reflecting on the racous standing ovation McKee received after he took his final bows to end the show, I think I can speak for the other hundred or so people in attendance when I say his play helped brighten a day where the sun had set far too soon.

No sympathy for Daylight Savings (or Prince's wardrobe requests)...