By DAN AQUILANTE
STRAPPED into a vintage five-string banjo, Steve Martin
looked from face to face among the crowd at the Rubin Museum of Art Wednesday night. The audience was there to hear his debut New York recital.
The famous comic, silver hair slightly mussed, was wearing a frumpy brown suit and tortoise-shell specs.
He introduced his opening tune, telling us, "This is a little something I play sitting around my living room by myself . . . so would you all leave?"
Everyone laughed, nobody moved -- and Martin didn't smile.
He may have been joking, but he was serious as his fingers started working the instrumental bluegrass medley.
Martin is a world-class actor, a remarkable comedian, a best-selling author and, as he proved on "American Idol
" last week -- and at this show -- he picks a pretty mean banjo. He isn't Earl Scruggs
, but he's no amateur.
Martin clearly has to think about what his fingers are doing and where the song is going. The faster he played, the harder he had to concentrate on the technical stuff, which is hard-wired into players like Scruggs. Martin wasn't flashy in his playing.
With the exception of a couple of breakdowns, his banjo work was simple, with lots of repetitions and very clean, very practiced delivery that clearly pleased the sold-out house.
Take the song "Tin Roof" (which he said was originally titled "Would You Stop Playing That Damn Banjo" by his wife). This instrumental featured Martin playing with gentleness at a tempo that is uncharacteristic to the usually brash banjo.
Helping Martin achieve his unique sound at this show was North Carolina's Steep Canyon Rangers, one of the finest bluegrass quintets in America. At this performance there was zero electric amplification -- it was totally acoustic -- and the brightness of the strings in this room was stunning.
The recital hall in the Rubin, a building that used to house the Barneys clothing outlet, rivals the acoustic quality of Lincoln Center's best classical and jazz auditoriums.
But this perfect sound didn't help Martin when he took the lead vocals on the song "Late for School," which was just about as awful live as it is on his otherwise excellent debut CD, "The Crow."
Still, there were few mistakes in this show. Martin showed off basic banjo skills -- and lionhearted stage bravery, to boot -- stepping out of his comedy comfort zone as well as his living room. FAMED COMIC GETS PLUCKY - New York Post If you have never seen/heard Steve Martin with a banjo, you are missing a treat. He's a very gifted individual with many talents, he's got dancing fingers on those strings. -- alh1020