Christopher Guest at Berklee Performance Center, November 30, 2007
THIS IS SPINAL TAP: Christopher Guest (center)
“This,” said Christopher Guest from the Berklee Performance Center stage, “is really difficult to believe. Until an hour ago, I thought it was a practical joke.” But, no, on November 30, Berklee School of Music president Roger Brown gave the multi-talented Guest, 59, an honorary doctorate, and then more than two dozen Berklee musicians played songs from Guest’s catalogue, mostly by Spinal Tap and the Folksmen. Long ago, Guest mastered the art of writing songs that succeed as genre parodies and as songs. Not great songs, but memorable songs, stuffed with clichés that ding the dumb/clever bell time and again.
Spinal Tap’s “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” — a statement of purpose and more purpose — kicked it off, with Owen McGreehan singing lead. Guest played electric guitar (and sometimes mandolin) on Tap material; he sang and played acoustic guitar with Ken Zembello and Jon Aldrich as the Folksmen, parodying the peppy optimistic folk of the early ’60s. And they brought the house down with their vocal harmonies during a cover of the Stones’ “Start Me Up.” Adi Yeshaya and Jim Odgren arranged the Folksmen’s “Skeletons of Quinto” as an instrumental, fully orchestrated and melancholic. Kevin Ross and Grace Taylor sang “A Penny for Your Thoughts” (from Guest’s small-town-music-theater send-up Waiting for Guffman) as a soulful duet. This came after Elvis Costello had performed it on video as a poignant acoustic number. (He then credited Guest as having “the soul of an artist” but having “far more wit.”)
Other video tributes came from Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton and from Steve Vai. Guest played it cool — by watching others and by ripping off some searing electric guitar leads. The finale — “Big Bottom,” Tap’s celebration of ample female posteriors — began with 50 Berklee student bassists striding down the aisles, ready to thump along with the band, whose line-up by then included president Brown on drums. Big smiles all around.
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