Ed Gerhard’s appearance last Saturday night at the OnStage! Concert Series at Medford’s Chevalier Theatre found the New Hampshire instrumental guitarist offering a lot of his finger style techniques and interesting arrangements. Never using a set list, Gerhard simply played whatever came to mind, often telling the audience the background stories surrounding his song selections.
Gerhard wasted no time getting into his fingerpick style, creating two simultaneous melodic lines. Though his opener was just a quiet instrumental, it spoke deeply, reaching a listener on a level that only a sensitive player can. Gerhard soon moved onto his arrangement of Bob Dylan’s cover of Dave Van Ronk’s traditional arrangement of “House Of The Rising Sun.” In Gerhard’s hands, the number was both plucky and tuneful. Notes were unfurled considerately as the guitarist switched from his acoustic low end notes to higher melody notes, creating a weave of something special and timeless.
“Rye Whiskey Mash” allowed Gerhard to showcase his slide guitar playing style on a lap steel, conjuring an earthy, rangy, bluesy sound. Each note rang out pure, emotive, while surrounded by a low end line that made one feel there was more than one player on stage. Continuing with his axe on his lap, Gerhard played a twitchy melodic line, one that spoke of restless souls while showcasing his innovative technique. He conjured a rustling sound, stirring, before moving into a lean, pretty line. It was moments like these that highlighted a specific personality in his compositions.
Gerhard told many stories and shared many anecdotes between songs. When he was in his early teens, he said, he only took three formal guitar lessons before he gave up on that kind of structured format. He also told of how he spotted a hippie kid in his neighborhood playing on an acoustic and he hit this kid up for lessons. Gerhard then went into his version of Joseph Spence’s “Great Dreams From Heaven,” a number later recorded by Ry Cooder. Bright, brittle, and lively notes hop scotched over a low end like a kid playing in a playground. Those snappy, brittle bits of notes ambled along like a person out for a jaunty spring walk.
Gerhard’s next number was similarly bright. It also managed to be fluid, a run of notes sailing along like a bird with spread wings catching a solid breeze. The guitarist’s next feat was to mash the Beatles “If I Fell In Love With You” and “In My Life” into one enjoyable piece of melodic beauty. His arrangement may have reminded many in attendance how well these songs sounded when they had first heard them back in the day.
Gerhard finished his first set with his arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Side Now,” a piece that forced one audience member to wipe a tear from her eye as the memorable melodic line reminded of those timeless Mitchell lyrics. His second set began with a hefty weave of rustling, ambling notes, creating a perfect vibe for everyone who had just returned to their seats from talking to the artist during his break. An untitled, still in progress piece, was a country waltz in ¾ time. His notes didn’t ring out with a country twang but the pacing was unmistakable. Considerate and alluring, its sweeping motion carried one along like a comforting arm around the shoulders..
Gerhard eventually played some his blues material after relating how the original blues number “Killing Floor” crept up on him as a young, aspiring guitarist. His number shuffled along with a line of hips notes that lingered on after he played each, building his line into a swaggering feel. Gerhard next went into a cover of Ry Cooder’s cover of a David Lindley arrangement. Titled “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Time And Live,” it offered rustic echoing from the guitarist’s lap steel, building a home-on-the-range feel. Numerous notes sang of sorrow, struggle within their lamented bluesy feeling. Meanwhile, low end notes kept it perfectly encased in in a throbbing flow of depth.
“Killing The Blues” by Rowland Salley found the guitarist slowing things down with his lap steel slide motions, offering greasy notes that spoke loudly about a bygone era in music. Each jumpy, slippery note had something to say. The guitarist soon played something that segued into John Lennon’s “Imagine,” finely accenting his notes to bring out the shiny beauty of the song. His original “On A Pennsylvania Hill” was based on Gerhard’s childhood living in a racially “restricted neighborhood.” His melodic line made one feel his ambivalence of about his old childhood world, one that forced him to turn to his record collection to find his only “black friends.”
It was clear from Gerhard’s remaining closing pieces that he had really enjoyed playing for his OnStage! Audience at the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, Massachusetts. He hit an emotional bulls eye with his close out work, encouraging one audience member to play air percussion to the pulpy intricacy of his melody.
Gerhard knows how to put on a show. Not one to just show off his technique, he instilled pure emotion into each piece he played. Individual notes had something to say, especially when this guitarist used his lap steel to plays bluesy, greasy slide notes. A true musician knows how to speak to his audience with notes and chords and Gerhard certainly fit that description last Saturday night at Chevalier.