In the mid-’80s, I saw Leo Kottke at Bogart’s with the intent of getting close enough to assure myself that the 12-string master didn’t have a third arm, nine fingered hands or a magic guitar. In fact, I was hoping there were implausible explanations for how an acoustic guitar could sound like dry waterboarding in my hands, but more like a heavenly choir of multi-harped angels in his. Ultimately, no supernatural rationalizations presented themselves.
Kottke was born to play guitar; he taught himself at age 12 while from both a bout of mononucleosis and his sister’s death. Kottke quickly developed an amazingly percussive style that involved a dazzling flair for fingerpicking and a complex sense of melody, evidenced by some of his beautiful compositions (“Blue Dot,” “Mona Ray,” “June Bug,” “Bean Time,” “Busted Bicycle,” “Circle ’Round the Sun”) and wildly wonderful cover interpretations (“Louise,” “Pamela Brown,” “Power Failure”). Vocally, Kottke’s offhandedly impressive baritone was once famously described as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day.” The critic? Leo Kottke.Beyond his superhuman guitar skills (which Kottke has had to adjust to compensate for tendonitis), he possesses a droll, disarming stage presence, often launching into strange, hilarious and sometimes touching monologues. At a later concert I attended, Kottke re-tuned and related that on a particularly long road stretch his wife put one of his albums on at home, causing his then-two-year-old daughter to hug the speaker and murmur, “Daddy …” “That’s when I knew I’d been gone too long,” he noted with a sad smile before launching into an exquisite song that merely reinforced the reasons he tours relentlessly and we pay to see him. Leo Kottke is God’s gift to guitars.
LEO KOTTKE plays Thursday, Feb. 23 at the 20th Century Theater. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.