Good humor man

Master guitarist Leo Kottke tickles frets and funny bones in Paradise

Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke

Photo by Tom Angel

Leo Kottke is not everybody’s cup of tea. His guitar playing, both 6- and 12-string, is too complex and dense for some; his baritone voice turns off others. If you are a Kottke fan, however—i.e., you’ve listened to the man over a long period of time and quite possibly while on different levels of consciousness—I hope you were among the fortunate who nearly filled the Paradise Performing Arts Center on Easter Sunday.

Kottke’s guitar playing and voice were flawless, his song list was representative of his career, and his wordplay with the audience was deadly funny and, in true Kottke form, a bit sad—kind of a primer on the tragicomedy of life.

Dressed in black shirt, black pants and white running shoes, Kottke entered the stage carrying his 12-string Fender. A six-string, a wooden chair and a microphone on a short stand were already waiting on stage. He warmed up with two instrumentals—typical Kottke fare where a simple melody runs through a complex web of a thousand notes and string harmonics.

Kottke recited a fairly long introduction for “Rings,” a wedding song written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey for one of those ceremonies in which “everybody involved but the two people getting married knows it’s a big mistake. And if you know and write a song and don’t say anything, what kind of person does that make you?”

And he described becoming a musician as “spending years alone in a room with your guitar and then one day you look up and there are bunch of people watching you.”

Kottke is a pleasure to watch, a master at his craft and an entertaining showman. While the best guitarists can squeeze feelings from their boxes, Kottke’s instrumentals tell a whole story, and his voice is a damned good instrument as well.