070297 John McLaughlin, Montreal, QC

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On July 2nd, 1997 I drove from Ottawa to Montreal for the fourth time in two-and-a-half weeks.  Of course they had all been concerts: a James Brown show that was part of a giant free outdoor festival called Rock Scene or some such thing, a G3 guitar wank-fest featuring Steve Vai, Robert Fripp and more shredding everyone’s favourite five notes, and what would become the first of many, many Herbie Hancock performances.  This trip was the last in my self-designed Montreal concert series but it was a double-shot, John McLaughlin at the Theatre Maisonneuve followed by Ben Harper at Metropolis.

Though this would be my first of several times seeing the absolutely masterful John McLaughlin play guitar I remember this show most notably for the drummer on the gig.  In a way.  Sort of, or not.  Y’see, this was also the first time I saw Dennis Chambers play the drums, but to be honest I had to look that up despite the fact that I can picture him playing behind McLaughlin at this show quite vividly in my mind.

The problem is I had seen Jack DeJohnette play drums for the first time just a few days earlier at the Herbie Hancock show and even though I can also vividly picture DeJohnette slamming away behind Herbie I have confused the two drummers ever since.  No matter what I do I just can not keep the two of them straight.  Same thing with String Cheese Incident and the Disco Biscuits, Barbara Streisand and Cher, and capers and anchovies.  So like I say, I can picture Dennis from this concert perfectly (and he was awesome), but the label attached to this mental image will always read “either Jack DeJohnette of Dennis Chambers” in my mind.

And it’s not that I think they look alike, just like I don’t think Bisco and SCI look alike, or capers and fish.  Though I guess I do find Cher and Streisand look basically the same*.

Anyway, a lifetime of conflating these two famous-but-obscure jazz percussionists was my biggest takeaway from this concert even though it was my aural debut of a guitar player that I’ve come to admire in ways that I admire in just a scant few other musicians.  But my memories of John McLaughlin from this show are more of a well-dressed man playing rather spacious cerebral jazz guitar and less of a spiritual musical guru using taut nickel wires as conduits to the unseeable vibrations of life that simultaneously surrounds, envelopes, and creates us.  ‘Cuz that’s what he usually does.

Still, great show.  And when it was done it was almost a run to Metropolis where my then-girlfriend Christine and I would join a whole different crew of friends for a whole different – but equally great – concert at the hands of the soulful and brilliant Ben Harper et al.

*I have started to convince myself that I might suffer from facial-blindness.  Maybe not 100% blind but I sure ain’t 20/20, I can promise you that.  I have always relied on non-facial triggers like hair, glasses, and clothing style as my primary ways of recognizing people (for the first dozen or so meetings anyway).  I’m sure that people’s particular gait and body language help too, but recognizing those factors would be unconscious.  Facial-blindness would certainly explain why I was so drawn to puppets and cartoons as a kid.  I know all kids like cartoons and puppets but I was obsessed.  Anyway, I’m not sure if I really have face-blindness or not but whatever I have it’s a royal pain in the butt.  If we all wore the same clothes every day like Fozzie Bear or Fred Flintstone do then I would be cured, but try explaining that to the world.

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