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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 4:51 am | Fair 42º


Paul Mann: Robben Ford, Jonathan McEuen Play Sold-Out Show in Carpinteria

Upgraded Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse hosts a special collaboration with the Mahlis/Pano Project

There was another very special concert at the South Coast’s hottest new venue, the Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse, last Saturday. The sold-out show featured guitar legend Robben Ford collaborating with local singer/songwriter Jonathan McEuen, and the Mahlis/Pano Project with upright bassist Dan Lutz.

The 200-seat theater, which already benefits from the best acoustics of any venue in the Tri-County area, now boasts an upgraded sound and lighting system.

The evening began early with the Mahlis/Pano Project trio opening. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dimitris Mahlis, the band also featured drummer Toss Panos and Lutz. The trio played a short impressive jazz jam of original material with a strong mix of Middle Eastern and Western influences.

After a short break, McEuen took the stage for a short acoustic set. A child musical prodigy, McEuen began touring at age 12 with his famous father’s group, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Since then, McEuen has had many successful musical collaborations. The Dobro-playing singer was in peak performing mode, perhaps because it was St. Patrick’s Day. McEuen has cited Irish jig music as one of the original inspirations for his unique approach to American bluegrass.

The clever singer/songwriter is also known for his sarcastic wit as well as his musical abilities. When announcing that Ford was about to join him onstage, he quipped that they always make him play acoustic in the venue but Ford gets to play electric guitar. Sure enough, with the new sound system in place, this was one of the first fully amplified shows at the venue.

McEuen actually picked up an electric guitar and the two ax men immediately began trading wailing riffs. The guitar duo were backed up by the opening acts, Panos on drums and Lutz on bass.

Ford, a self-described harbinger of blues music, has been a musical force for five of the six decades he has been alive. He was a professional guitar player as far back as 1969, when his band with his brothers, the Charles Ford Blues Band, got a gig backing Charlie Musselwhite on a national tour. The Southern California blues master has long been a favorite of European fans of American blues. In Europe he met many famous American jazz musicians.

In 1976, Ford began to experiment with jazz fusion music, which led him to many legendary collaborations, including a short stint with Miles Davis. But his guitar wizardry stretched across many other pop genres, including hard rock. After contributing to the 1982 Kiss album Creatures of the Night, the band had asked him to replace lead guitarist Ace Frehley, who had left the band. Ford preferred to take a more hands-off collaborative approach to the Kiss project, however, and continued to experiment.

His music catalog today is one of the most extensive of any recorded musician. Always evolving, he has concentrated his recent energy on what he calls the new era of evolving blues. The quartet in the old Carpinteria movie house last Saturday proved a fitting platform for Ford to showcase his talents. McEuen and the other musicians held their own with the masterful musician by their side, as they performed iconic slices from Ford’s extensive library.

The foursome sounded a bit like the Eagles but with a more free-form jam band feel, sometimes bordering on the jazz fusion sound that Ford long ago embraced. The vocal harmonies between Ford and McEuen melted into a unique and refreshing sound that riveted the audience throughout the entire set.

This new venue is fast becoming one of the hottest tickets in the area. Click here for more information on upcoming shows at the Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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