Strings and Things

Shred ’til you’re dead

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In case you haven’t noticed, the holidays are somehow upon us already. I’m not certain how such a thing happens, how this holiday creep has come to encompass all the weeks between Halloween (even earlier, in some instances) and the New Year, but I can tell you I don’t like it one bit.

This is why I’m eternally grateful that the Mount Baker Theatre won’t succumb to the sounds of the seemingly eternal season until the calendar actually turns to December. But between now and then, they’ve got a whole lot of entertainment in store for all and sundry.

On the near-term horizon, the Baker will welcome a man who is historic himself—albeit slightly less aged than the 86-year-old historic downtown theater—the inimitable, unforgettable Dan Hicks.

Hicks, now in his 70s, has been a musical mainstay for half a century, and is one of those artists who continues to create and remains relevant simply by doing whatever it is that he wants. Lucky for him, doing what he wants doesn’t mean trashing hotel rooms, throwing tantrums and generally behaving badly, rather it means following a musical path that has stubbornly and persistently defied genre classification or any of the other musical strictures that often limit musicians.

Which is not to say Hicks is contrary just for the sake of being contrary.

Instead, he’s more of a musical freethinker, willing and able to dabble in folk, jazz, country, swing, pop, bluegrass and more to create the distinctive sound that has been all his own since the minute he appeared on the scene, guitar in hand, all those years ago.

Although he can be tough to pigeonhole, Hicks does have one particular gift that has likely greatly contributed to his longevity and broad appeal—he’s not afraid to use a whole lot of humor in both his songs and stage persona. Mind you, although he can tell a good joke, Hicks is a musician first and foremost. So, if you’re expecting costume changes and general buffoonery, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Weird Al he ain’t.

Instead, Hicks does something far trickier than going for the easy joke or play on words: he uses humor to make his songs and the characters that live within them more relatable. It’s not something a whole lot of artists could pull off for so many decades without becoming a parody of themselves at some point, but Hicks does so effortlessly. And in a world in which music—with its themes of love and heartbreak, life and death—is typically Serious Business, Hicks is indeed unique.

However, it is not necessary to look back at the many years of Hicks’ long career to get a sense of his power and draw. Instead, one need only look back a little more than a decade, to his 2000 album Beatin’ the Heat, which features such guest stars as longtime Hicks fan Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, Tom Waits, and more. Or to 2009’s Tangled Tales, which features the likes of David Grisman and Charlie Musselwhite.

As well, almost since he started making music all those years ago, Hicks has had a backing band, and while the personnel has changed over time, their name hasn’t—they’ve been Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks (or Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks), and I don’t know about you, but a guy who gives his band a rhyming name that clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously is someone I wouldn’t mind sitting down and spending some time with.

But Hicks isn’t the only happening on the Baker’s upcoming schedule. Just shy of a week after he and his Hot Licks depart, not one, but two guitar trios will take the stage for a night of mind-boggling, reality-defying shreddery. Hailing from the United States and Canada, the appropriately named California and Montreal Guitar Trios (or CGT and MG3 as they are respectively known) is a cross-border collaboration custom made for music lovers.

Lest you think this is going to be an evening of high-concept musical esoterica, it might please you to know that everything from Queen (I’m talking “Bohemian Rhapsody” here) to the Beatles (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” natch) to Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin have been known to make their way onto the set list. If you’re a buff of famous movie scores, you’ll be happy to know that the music of Ennio Morricone and famed Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann will be evoked by these stringed wonders.

But if you happen to be among those who believe that being a guitar virtuoso means having a certain reverence for the classics—and I’m not talking classic rock here—CGT and MG3 can also deftly and nimbly work their way through a program that includes Bach and Vivaldi, among others. In short, put guitars in their capable hands and there’s little this sextet can’t do.

So, if you’re looking for a respite from the inexplicably early seasonal onslaught, rest assured that the Mount Baker Theatre will sing no carol or crack no nuts before it’s time. Consider it your sanctuary—at least until December, that is.

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