Friday, April 20 , 2018, 9:10 pm | Fair 55º


Jeff Moehlis: Rock and Bach with the California Guitar Trio

Guitar virtuosity fills the tiny Mercury Lounge stage

Sometimes there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to concerts in the Santa Barbara area. Such was the case last Thursday night, with overlapping concerts by bluesman Taj Mahal at the Lobero Theatre and the California Guitar Trio at the Mercury Lounge.

In a heroic attempt to catch them both, I rushed out when Taj Mahal finished, speeding down the construction-constricted Highway 101 as fast as I could, hoping the CGT would have a late start. Alas, CGT had to drive to Los Angeles that night to prepare for the next night’s show at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, so they started on time and I missed the first half of their concert — which I was disappointed to learn included their rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and some old favorites such as"Blockhead.” Although I saw only half of the concert, the CGT certainly deserves a full review.

The CGT, consisting of Bert Lams from Belgium, Hideyo Moriya from Japan and Paul Richards from Utah, has been together as a band for about 20 years, having met at a guitar seminar organized by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Certainly Discipline-era King Crimson is an influence on some of their original songs, but they also specialize in guitar trio arrangements of surf music, classical music (mostly Bach) and classic rock songs.

This was a return visit for the band to the Mercury Lounge’s tiny stage, including notable shows with bassist extraordinaire and King Crimson alum Tony Levin in 1999, which is represented on their album Rocks the West, and another great show that I caught in 2004.

The second half of Thursday’s concert included “Ghostriders on the Storm,” which cleverly merges The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” with “Ghost Riders in the Sky”; a mind-blowing arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for which the guitars came together to give a harpsichord-like sound; Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is their biggest YouTube hit and brought a smile to everyone’s face; “Sleepwalking,” which was included on the tracklist for my wedding reception (OK, my wife and I are fans); and the “William Tell Overture” that Richards said they would be performing a few nights later at — fittingly — Lone Ranger Canyon in Lone Pine.

They also played the 1960s instrumental tour-de-force “Classical Gas,” afterward saying that the composer, Mason Williams, recently heard their version and — like the audience — was very impressed. One imagines that J.S. Bach would be similarly impressed by their arrangements of his pieces.

It was also cool to hear songs from their newest album, Andromeda, the winner of the Best Instrumental Album of 2010 from the Indie Acoustic Project, including the knotty title track and the multistyled “Hazardous Z” featuring nylon-string classical guitar from Lams.

The CGT’s virtuosic yet seemingly effortless playing, plus their creative setlist, makes seeing them in concert a true joy. One hopes they continue to make the Mercury Lounge a stop on their tours. I promise to catch the full show the next time they come!

Click here for photos from the California Guitar Trio’s trip to the Mercury Lounge, including a shot of the setlist.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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