112296 Paco de Lucía, Al Di Meola, and John McLaughlin, Montreal, QC

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It’s funny how well I remember the phone ringing one day.  It was my friend and former guitar teacher Wayne telling me the lineup from the classic guitar-geek album Friday Night in San Francisco was coming to Montreal.  “Woah,” I thought.

I happened to be sitting next to Jojo, who was at the time my goto concert buddy.  “Hold on a second,” I said to Wayne.

“Hey Jojo, you want to go see three crazy guitar players in Montreal?” I asked.  I figured that was all the information he would need.

“Sure,” he said, proving me right.

And that’s how the three of us ended up at the St. Denis Theatre on November 22nd, 1996 for a concert featuring John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucía, and Al Di Meola.  We were about a third of the way back on the floor of the old movie house, with maybe four hundred guitar geeks in front of us and another seven or eight hundred guitar geeks behind, with several hundred more up in the balcony.

Yes, this was a guitar player’s show all right, no question about it.  How could it be otherwise when you gather together the ultimate zen guitar guru John McLaughlin, the jazz/fusion freak of nature Al Di Meola, and the world’s greatest flamenco hero Paco de Lucía (I mean, it’s not uncommon for flamenco aficionados to rock back and forth chanting “Paco…Paco…” when they share his air)?  Back in 1981 these three guys recorded a live album that has since frustrated and inspired guitar players around the world – at least those that were brave enough to give it a listen – and we were all at the St. Denis Theatre to see if it could possibly have been real.

It was real.  

My goodness, could those guys play!  It was just an astounding display of inhuman discipline, practise, and sacrifice; three undisputed masters intermingling their life journeys with each other in front of a silent, drooling crowd.  

John McLaughlin was the only guy I was really familiar with outside of the Friday Night album, and he was as amazing as ever, dishing out perfect, glistening guitar lines just by merely willing the air particles around him to vibrate.  He’s just that kind of guy.

My only criticism of the whole night was directed at Di Meola, but really it was just my own shortcomings.  It’s just that he played so incredibly fast that it all sounded like the same flurious line repeated over and over.  Clearly it wasn’t, it’s more likely that my musical brain was just too slow to keep up.  Imagine a strobe light that flickered so fast it looked like it was giving off constant light.  Listening to Al Di Meola play was just like that.

This was my only time being in the same room as Paco*, and I’m so glad I was.  I’m still not enough of a flamenco fan to truly appreciate the greatness I witnessed, but even through my ignorance I could feel the magic.  I didn’t start chanting but man, I came close.

All in all, Friday Night in Montreal was a mind-twisting, amazing pile of music and I’m thrilled to have witnessed it.  It pays to answer the phone sometimes.

*Hmm…this is kinda sorta not true.  I just remembered that I saw Paco de Lucía again fifteen years later at the Ottawa jazz festival.  But that was an outdoor show.

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