There are many techniques and styles of playing guitar, and one of the least common and most interesting is percussive fingerstyle, perhaps best known by its portrayal by Kaki King in the movie August Rush. While many artists dabble in the style, the truly experimental combine it with other advanced techniques and technologies to push the art of playing guitar forward, and four such artists gathered on Friday night at Doc Watson’s. The opening act was Suzi Brown, a young singer-songwriter who began with instrumental guitar performance before adding lyrics sung in a style reminiscent of Alanis Morissette. Her songwriting tends toward the didactic, with a strong focus on social justice issues on which she frequently speaks from the stage. The complex instrumental techniques of her roots are not always hidden behind straightforward songwriting and ’90s styled vocals, however, as she still finds herself explaining instrumental pieces and their inspiration somewhat frequently through her set, perhaps the best of which is “Logan’s Pass”, a rendition of which you can see above.

Alex Brubaker, on the other hand, kept things strictly instrumental throughout, preferring to integrate his technical prowess with further technological advancements for added interest rather than lyrics and singing. His heavy use of looping and processing is fascinating, his pedalboard a gearhead’s dream that enables virtually limitless self-expression. Building songs by bits and pieces as he’s been doing for years, this show was an opportunity for many to hear new material from his forthcoming second studio album, The Architecht The Engineer. He included some material from his debut, Deconstructing the Temporal Lobe, as well, but the evolution of his style was certainly the focal point of the set, as the material seemed to get newer and newer throughout. Fans will have many opportunities to experience the new songs before the album drops, the first of which will be on April 24th at the Lancaster Convention Center for Launch Music Conference. The key difference is more of a sense of space and minimalism, skewing away from the multi-tracked, guitar-switching antics of his early material in favor of a more restrained, mature style. The video above is situated about halfway between the two.

The gathered musicians were all clearly friends, a fact that became clear to those unaware when Brubaker heckled Henry Nam a bit for his newfound vocal focus before finishing his set. The joke turned around when Nam took the stage and pointed out that he would be sticking with primarily instrumental material that night. Rather than integrating a keyboard into his performance as he was at one time known for, he focused on his stringed work as well, delivering a tight set of comparatively high-energy rhythmic work, even including a surprising interpolation of Outkast’s “Hey Ya”, with markedly less exposition between songs. Letting the music speak for itself was even his approach when he performed at TEDxStanford about a year ago, and probably will be again when he plays at Princeton’s Communiversity on the 26th.

Rated one of Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s 30 Under 30, Trevor Gordon Hall is an accomplished performer and composer who has been touring internationally for a few years now. Based locally in Collegeville, PA, it is a rare evening that finds him performing in such an intimate space, a treat that those gathered surely appreciated. The Candyrat Records artist played two unique instruments at this show: his distinctive “kalimbatar”, an acoustic guitar with a kalimba mounted to the body, and a guitar strung with just the high strings from a 12-string. Both sounds were alternatingly familiar and surprising, integrating strange techniques and notes into otherwise ordinary formats and vice versa. Perhaps a bit peaceful for the lateness of the evening, his music was quite calming, certainly decompressing the audience from a week’s work should the preceding performances have yet to do so. The other artists and their remaining fans, friends, and family gathered close to the stage with an enviable communal spirit, focusing intently on the details of each piece in a way much more expected of a smaller listening room than a bar. He’ll be bringing that experience to The Artscenter andGrey Eagle in North Carolina in May, before stopping home for Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church Concert Series in Phoenixville and heading up to Stowe, Vermont in June for The Gathering.

By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC

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