SIOUX CITY | The white suit has been replaced by a white linen sport coat. The arrow through the head, by a band.
But the Steve Martin we knew and loved in the 1970s hasn’t changed drastically. He’s still the funny guy who loves to play the banjo.
At the Orpheum Theatre Friday night, Martin brought plenty of laughs along with a brand of musicianship that’s pretty darn good.
Backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers, Martin demonstrated his bluegrass prowess with a number of selections from their collaboration, “Rare Bird Alert,” and his Grammy-winning release, “The Crow.”
Most of the numbers with lyrics – stuff like “Jubilation Day” and “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” – featured Martin’s skewed view of life.
The humor, though, was vintage Martin. He compared this stage of his career to “Jerry Seinfeld doing a night of original songs for the bassoon” and, repeatedly, made fun of his status as an interloper in the bluegrass world.
“If you’re not enjoying the show,” he said, “you’re wrong.”
Martin and the Rangers were named Entertainers of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association and it’s easy to see why.
The five-man Rangers are extremely talented; fiddler Nicky Sanders is as good as they come.
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And Woody Platt? The lead singer looks a bit like Blake Shelton and sings like one of the Grand Ole Opry regulars.
Toss in Martin’s goofy sensibility (which has calmed down but still remains at a slow boil) and it’s a night of good entertainment for folks who never thought they’d like a bluegrass concert.
During the 90-minute show, Martin detailed his journey with the music, explained the songs he wrote (“Me and Paul Revere,” for example, was told from the horse’s perspective) and had fun teasing with the band and playing off his reputation. “They’re not my band. I’m their celebrity.”
He deflated his own ego – time after time – and admitted he last was in Sioux City 40 years ago. “It was a longtime dream of mine to play bluegrass in Sioux City,” he said. “I’m one step closer to that today. I saw posters with ‘sold out’ across my face and I thought, ‘How rude.’”
While Martin may have gotten a tish older since that first appearance, he’s still a sharp comedian and, surprisingly, an accomplished musician. He gave fellow banjo player Graham Sharp plenty of reason to sweat. And his writing ability holds up with the best in the business.
For fans weaned on his comedy, Martin’s show was an opportunity to grow, too. Bluegrass may not be their cup of frappuccino but he gave them a chance to sample some of the hottest offerings today.
The Steep Canyon Rangers benefit, too. Thanks to the association, record sales are bound to increase. An a cappella number they did was phenomenal.
And their ability to play along with Martin’s humor? Priceless.
This new phase proves there’s room for everyone to change – even when we don’t want to.
Martin’s just leading the way.