Review: Allan Holdsworth Band at The Iron Horse

Every so often, a ’70s rock or jazz icon comes to our area to play a show. I suggest we get tickets, to which Mr. Max invariably replies, “Sure, but what’s the sperm count?”

This is a reference to a phrase I coined —  Low Sperm Count Rock (LSCR) — to describe the late period decline/over-commercialism of popular musicians. Whether caused by fame-induced megalomania, born-again Scientology or even just too many years spent in and around Los Angeles, the end result is the same: Coca-Cola endorsements and a gig at the Superbowl Halftime Show. I’m not going to name names…

Okay, I am going to name some names.

They’re big boys; they can take it.

And then there are the musician’s musicians — the people who, even after enjoying a period of fame and/or fortune, remain focused on the capital-M Music.

Allan Holdsworth is just such a guy. Idolized by guitar nerds as a creative virtuoso, he’s known for his unique and lyrical guitar playing (reportedly influenced by jazz saxophonists like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker). He’s played with a number of different configurations over the years, the current being a trio with Jimmy Haslip on bass and Virgil Donati on drums. When I heard the tour was coming through Northampton, I got us tickets.

We got to the show a few minutes early and grabbed a booth. A look around revealed a sea of ponytails — many of them gray, all of them attached to men. As someone with two X chromosomes who likes both jazz and progressive rock, I’ve gotten kind of used to living outside the line graph. But it’s really something to think you might be the only girl in an entire club. After much searching I found a table of 3 women, but all were deeply focused on their phones: Girlfriends. I spied their menfolk a few tables over huddled around tall glasses of amber beer.

The opening band was Marbin, which consisted of a saxophonist, guitarist, bass player and drummer. The music was fun and interesting, and incorporated a few klezmer-esque key changes into jazzy grooves (the guitarist and horn player hailed from Israel). They told a funny anecdote about going on tour in the Deep South and playing for a bunch of neo-nazi jazz fusion fans. Really. It was funny.

Maybe you had to be there.

At this point, the guys with the cell phone girlfriends were deep in lustful head-bobbing and foot-tapping.

After a short break, the Holdsworth Band took the stage.

As one of the most modest professional musicians alive, Holdsworth skipped both the loudspeaker announcement thing and the humble-brag self-introduction (mumbling “we’re X band…and uh, we’re gonna play some songs…”) and launched right into the set, which included vibrant re-envisionings of personal faves like Tokyo Dream and Devil Take the Hindmost.

I immediately dug the bass player, Jimmy Haslip. He’s a musician who displays the kind of insane boundless creativity that makes other musicians consider becoming accountants. Even the girlfriends stopped fiddling with their phones and looked up.

Not taken from this concert, but a good demonstration of his playing. Right now you are thinking deeply about becoming a CPA.

I also really, really liked Virgil Donati’s powerful, aggressive percussion style. It added a nice edginess to Holdsworth’s fluid lines. Somewhere towards the end of the show he had a solo that featured so much superfast bass pedal that I suspected he must keep a secret third foot stored under the kit.

Props also have to go out to the audience, who for the most part really behaved themselves. I admit it; I am a serious curmudgeon when it comes to seeing live music. If it were up to me, bouncers would pitch out audience members at the first sign of awkward first date chit-chat, singing along with the band, or excessive “woo-ing.” Concerts are for listening, amiright?

Of course, not everyone agrees with this aesthetic and I’ve come to accept that plenty of people go out to a club to engage in an awkward mating ritual over the din of giant amps. But it’s definitely a special treat when the rest of the audience seems as interested in listening to the band as I am.

The tour’s now in Europe, so if you find yourself on the other side of the pond you should definitely catch a show. And if you can’t, check out this performance from the 2012 NAMM show (featuring keyboardist Dennis Hamm):

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