The Spin strolled down Third Avenue Wednesday night, basking in a warm breeze and a golden sunset glinting off the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We’ve enjoyed seeing the Nashville Symphony Orchestra kick out art music jams spanning Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Phillip Glass, despite an unwritten rule about the fanciness of one’s duds being inversely proportionate to the amount of attention one must pay to where one walks. Though reports were promising, we had yet to scope a pop concert inside the acoustic and architectural marvel for ourselves. The NSO’s current financial predicament means we’re likely to see a lot more of them, making the already-enticing bill with Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers and Edie Brickell a welcome opportunity to try it out.
As the house lights dimmed, a whiff of beer and a few rebel yells made us feel right at home. Clad in a white sport coat, Martin led off with a gag-filled monologue — “These banjos are like my children: One of them is probably not mine” — as he introduced the Rangers, whose hybrid style combining two parts traditional musicianship and one part skillful innovation has earned them multiple Grammys and IBMAs. With a “show ‘em how it’s done,” they dug into a runaway train of a set featuring cuts from across Martin’s catalog. Their interplay was impressive throughout, but entered a whole new realm on the Appalachian-fugue title cut from Martin’s own 2009 Grammy-winner, The Crow.
A rich display of showmanship overall, the one slightly rough patch was incorporating Edie Brickell’s contributions. Her collaborations with Martin stretch the group’s sound far beyond bluegrass; though the Rangers adapted easily to playing with a drummer and an electric guitar, the energy of these tunes was completely different. Brickell’s introduction toward the end of the first set broke the stride a little, and the first few tunes felt a bit awkward, as if the author of “What I Am” had tried too hard to write “a bluegrass song” and not something of her own. However, we soon grew accustomed to the new groove, and the songs showcasing Brickell’s natural storyteller side emerged — “Yes She Did” and “Fighter” ruled especially — as she and band locked onto each other’s wavelengths with the ease of old friends.
The evening closed out with a bang, concluding on a W.H. Auden poem set in a blistering cadence by the band. Fiddler Nicky Sanders got a huge barnstorming solo, and producer Peter Asher (O.G. folk master of Peter and Gordon fame) got a chance to shine on harmony vocals. We strolled back to the Spin-mobile, reflecting that more non-art shows at the Schermerhorn will be A-OK by us. We may raise an eyebrow at the prospect of ABBA: The Concert, and our hopes of seeing Yes with Rick Wakeman on the pipe organ may be a little far-fetched, but if the new management elects to join in on the CMA Fest-ivities, we reckon it’ll be a jam to remember.