“You Just Like The Fast Stuff, That’s All:” Al Di Meola at the Sellersville Theater

Al Di Meola
Sellersville Theater
Sellersville, PA
1.18.09

Photo uncredited; from Al Di Meola's website.

The overall mood was relatively morose by 6:30PM, the Philadelphia Eagles having forfeit (the first half was a joke) their shot at the Super Bowl. Before beginning his set about an hour later, guitar virtuoso, Al Di Meola, expressed his condolences to Philadelphia’s loss. My brother called out, “We’re used to it!”

Not so much a “concert” as an “engagement,” or “an evening with dot dot dot,” Di Meola and his sextet, (having until recently been a foursome), sat before a crowd of aging 70s artifacts, pretentious Doylestown hipsters and prog-obsessed nerdy teenagers. Gregg Allman was a common look. The crowd was an attentive bunch, engrossed by Di Meola’s understated between-song-commentary, and overstated during-song-fretwork. Considering my last show, I was more than happy to be in attendance of something less detrimental to my hearing and more relaxed.

The venue itself is a converted movie theater, recalling the days when seating was NOT stadium and heads could block pivotal movie moments or subtitles. There were MANY instances when I fell victim to this, the head of an empty-nest syndrome Mary Lou Retton occupying a good portion of my vision at points, and then the life-size Q-Tip a couple rows down doing the same. But, the sound was great, Di Meola’s pronounced six-string ringing throughout the intimate setting.

His ability really shows no sign of wear or tear, myself never having seen him live before but knowing enough of his recorded output to keep myself aware of how insane his playing is. Out of nowhere, the fingers will fly, pinning themselves against the frets at carpal-tunnel speeds and, at points, making the crowd respond with nothing more than “whoa” climbing from our otherwise speechless tongues as if we’d just witnessed action hero cinema at its peak. The guy’s a fucking samurai, but he’s also graceful when he slows down, his notes sporadically piercing through the layered sound collage behind him.

Al Di Meola plays “Mediterranean Sundance” live with Alexandru Cotoi in Bucharest 2008. A couple of the musicians I saw live are featured here.

The group made their way through a hyper-speed piece of jazz-fusion called, “Siberiana,” and some new material (“Turquoise,” “Café”) from their latest live album, New World Sinfonia. Di Meola went electric twice, but stuck mostly with his acoustic. Song titles weren’t always relayed to the crowd and, myself being a casual listener, I wasn’t necessarily on the up-and-up as far as what he played. It was easy to lose yourself in the flurries of splash cymbal and hi-hat, with the notes from Di Meola, and back-up guitarist, Peo Alfonsi, carving serpentine-like through the sonic walls of Fausto Beccalossi’s non-traditional accordion.

Beccalossi was the OTHER attraction, his playing bringing the otherwise staid accordion into the realms of sexual possibilities, (as in “he made that instrument cool enough to earn a groupie hand job at the very least”). I won’t say that my exposure to accordion music has been comprehensive, but for the most part it’s been an instrument that I’ve had NO difficulty ignoring. Last night, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Beccalossi, his fingers somehow clawing their way to their correct and non-descript button while stretching the instrument as far as he could fathom. The guy achieved sounds I’d NEVER heard come out of an accordion prior, even pulling a Frampton at points with a mouthpiece and pushing THOSE sounds through. It was definitely something to see and hear.

After about two hours of music and one fifteen-minute intermission, the crew ceremoniously walked off-stage and then came back again for a couple encores. Di Meola brought his daughter out, sitting her at the foot of the stage as if to serenade her. Happily for me, their next song was “Mediterranean Sundance/Rio Ancho,” a song I’ve heard many times on the John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia collaborative, Friday Night In San Francisco. Di Meola pre-empted his last performance by thanking the crowd and sending us all a “god bless.” The group took a final bow and walked off stage as they received a standing ovation.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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