Back in the '70s in Sydney, in a small local pub, The Emmanuel Brothers were playing. In awe and gobsmacked by their sheer talent, I walked over to Tommy and asked how he could possibly play a guitar like that? His answer was "practice every day, eight hours a day and love the music, and you, too, can play like me". That was the '70s: in 2012 it is hard to tell where the man ends and the guitar begins...
'Best Acoustic Guitarist of 2010' (Guitar Player Magazine) and Grammy nominee times two, Tommy was influenced by other great guitarists as he built his career over the last five decades: now it is Tommy who influences and impresses other guitar legends.
Two such talented guitarists fronted Thursday night's show for Tommy: Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo from the USA. Warming up with 'yoga' (tongue-in-cheek) then bouncing and balancing into ballet (their Swan Lake routine is worth the freight alone) these musicians held the audience in the palm of their guitar picking hands, playing compilations comparable to... well... to Tommy Emmanuel! Frank and Vinny warm up the audience with ease and comic relief: latecomers were treated to a condensed version of all they had missed, including the Swan Lake routine.
Tommy Emmanuel takes the stage and everyone in the audience is primed and waiting: the audience a mix of loyal fans from way back when; guitar hopefuls hanging off every chord and progression; and music-lovers who have been following Emmanuel's career since the go-get. Tommy shares stories about his old guitar going to guitar heaven and introduces his new guitar: stories within stories and all the while cleaving the audience to his chest.
Flowing in and around and over and above the music, Tommy fills in every possible gap/space with sound. He's rapt. Blues played dirty with a swaggering style then full throttle into 'Classical Gas' with a twist. Clever introduction to this song earlier in the evening gave fans a chance to focus on his newer and more contemporary musical offerings.
With a carnival of sound, Tommy sings "I owe my soul to the company store..." and his dexterity wins the audience over – the man is his own overture. Tommy segues and quick-changes mid stream with the audience hanging off every chord.
Tommy admits to "only playing requests when asked" and intersperses magical music with laconic wit (and a few dad jokes thrown in). He is comfortable and inclusive with his audience, sharing stories and "tips" throughout the evening's performance: "ask yourself what's your mission? If it is in two parts, learn them together and go SLOW and be meticulous – practice this a million times." Tip Number One was "don't practice in front of your family. Repetition makes for perfection." Tommy's "hands know what to do"!
One such story (the Navajo story) with Tommy's musical response transports the audience into another space again, with heartbeat intensity: hollow and lonely trails, playing the guitar with an urgent and almost Flamenco feel.
"It's a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll, a little bit jazz, swing, bluegrass – only one thing missing is the POLKA..." Tommy welcomes back onto the stage Frank Vignola and is later joined again by Vinny Raniolo. These three amigos, with hands a flurry, perform with such ease and knowledge that guitar hopefuls in the audience were gobsmacked. Emmanuel took the time to explain certain tricks of the trade: a very generous offering indeed.
Live and Acoustic
with Special Guests Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo
Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC Brisbane
Date: August 9, 2012
Saturday August 11 – Hammer Hall Arts Centre Melbourne
Sunday August 12 – Perth Concert Hall
Thursday August 16 – Bruce Mason Centre Auckland
Saturday August 18 – Founders Theatre Hamilton
Sunday August 19 – The Opera House Wellington
Further info: www.tommyemmanuel.com