I know that’s a Steve Vai line, but it applies here: I caught Allan Holdsworth Wednesday night in Teaneck, N.J., my first time seeing him live. I loved it – and I’m a litle surprised I did.
I knew going in that Allan was a monster player with a monster band – that’s always fun to see. But I’m not a jazz guy, and assumed that his form of avant garde jazz would be a little too out there for my Neanderthal rock brain to process. And a lot of it was (a drummer buddy who was with me said after one tune, “Can anyone find the 1?” – pretty funny), but that didn’t take away from the sheer…I think the best term is “artistry”…of what Allan did and does.
You could even call some of it shredding. I believe the third tune was “Devil Take the Hindmost,” and after that display of complete prowess over the instrument I didn’t know whether to crawl under a rock or go to church. It was that mind-blowingly mind-blowing.
I mean, I know my way around a fretboard, and since I was sitting about 8 feet from him I could see plain as day what he was doing – but I can say with complete certainty that I couldn’t replicate any of it. Might be fun to try, though.
Now I can see why Edward Van Halen called Allan (paraphrasing here) the one guy who’s stuff he couldn’t easily cop.
Here are a few random impressions:
> Second tune was Fred, from the Tony Williams Lifetime album from the ’70s. Awesome!
> Again, to me, Allan is an artist. Music biz people call everyone an artist, but Allan is a true artist. He has his own muse, he’s following it and he’s doing things on an electric guitar – and possibly with jazz (I don’t know enough) – that no one has done before and most players could never do.
> His sound was at times violin-like or even keyboard-like, but mostly it sounded to me like a woodwind instrument.
> He seems like a very shy guy. Didn’t say much on stage – mostly just “Ernest Tibbs” and “Chad Wackerman” – and appeared a bit uncomfortable meeting fans after the show. I wonder if he realizes that he’s “the” Allan Holdsworth?!
> The show seemed very short to me, but it was a good 90 minutes (one encore). When time flies, to me that’s a sign of a good experience.
The bottom line was it was just fascinating to watch and listen to. Allan is on his own planet, Ernest Tibbs was great on bass and Chad Wackerman also had if not his own planet then at least his own moon. My drummer buddy noticed that Chad was so relaxed he wasn’t even sweating by the end of the night, even though he hit the drums hard at times.
Was Allan’s tone woody? Well, I guess if it sounded like a woodwind instrument, technically the answer is yes. But it isn’t organically woody. It’s processed.
It looked like Allan’s white trapezoid-body Steinberger (trem bar pushed to the back of the guitar) ran into six (!) Yamaha Magicstomp pedals and then to two volume and/or expression pedals. Or maybe it was the other way around.
The six Magicstomps were not on the floor – maybe because of the small stage? – but instead were at a level where Allan could operate them with his hand.
Amps were two Hughes & Kettner Switchblade combos (I assume that’s the right model) on top of H&K 2x12s (two total) turned on their sides. All four cabs (combos and stand-alones) were mic’d.
Man, Beck and Holdsworth in the same month….
Would I see Allan again? Absolutely. The chords, the lines, the “shredding,” the band –for lack of a more poetic way to phrase it, the experience was spiritually insprational.
Here’s some insight on how Allan thinks about the guitar and scales: