What stunning talent, what staggering dexterity was on display here tonight. Four international gentlemen of the acoustic guitar delivered virtuosity with a punch and many more subtle touches. One felt it would have been rude not to have attended. Phew! The audience was genuinely appreciative, not account of the players' reputations but on account of performances that consistently impressed in no uncertain terms.
Fingerestyle Collective are Don Alder from Vancouver, Dan La Voie from New York, Justin King from Oregon and Stuart Masters from Essex (last time I saw him at J2, three years ago to be precise, he was a promising support act; well, the promise has certainly been delivered). They met at a festival in Shanghai. Dan suggested that they tour England. This they subsequently did, last year and now again. Each took a turn playing solo, with occasional collaboration from one of the others, before a grand climax in which the four together played a theme from Star Wars, John Martyn's May You Never, and a deliberately unprepared (they evidently enjoy a challenge), ad hoc encore of Gillian Welch's See Miss Ohio and Don Alder's Calling.
Each player demonstrated considerable versatility, playing a variety of guitars, and playing in a variety of styles. Each also composes and each sings, although the majority of numbers were instrumentals. Each was adept not only with their fingers on the strings but also at tapping the guitar for percussive effect. Dan LaVoie specialises in the extraordinarily shaped, double-necked, twelve-stringed harp guitar, which, as he described, 'looks like it was left too near the heater'. Justin King had intended to attach to his guitar some balloons sent to him by his girlfriend, but alas they came loose before the show and we could see them bobbing below the ceiling.
Did the evening make me wish I was a guitarist? Well, only one with outstanding raw talent and the patience for all the practice it must take to acquire such virtuosity. But I suspect lesser guitarists may have felt like giving up after witnessing what these four delivering.
And the acoustic guitar has such a pleasing, relaxing yet often exciting sound. So there was nothing gratuitous about the virtuosity. You didn't have to care about technical ability to be thrilled by what was ultmiately just exceptionally good music. Do go to see them if they play again. And get a copy of Stuart Masters' forthcoming album Odonata.
Writer: Rychard Carrington